Mom Was Right: Manage Stress By Playing Outside

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Calm Yourself Naturally

Modern life is full of stressors that affect our health, peace of mind, and ability to cope. In our urban world, reconnecting to the simplicity and beauty of nature is calming to our souls. John Muir said, “Keep close to nature’s heart…break clear away, once in a while and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Nature Refreshes

There are many ways to keep close to nature and cleanse our spirit. Taking walks, gazing at clouds, working in a garden, and arranging flowers in a vase are all simple acts that are easy to do within your home radius.

The Mountains Are Inspirational 

The Dali Lama says, “People need to climb mountains not simply because they are there but because the soulful divinity needs to be mated with the spirit.  The relationship of heights to spirituality is not merely metaphorical it is a physical reality.  The most spiritual people on this planet live in the highest places. “

Personally, I like hiking in the mountains. The exercise, the fresh air, and the panoramic views are exhilarating. While in the mountains, I like to use my imagination to look at the world with a playful approach. Some of the rock structures in the canyons near my Utah home provide a source for numerous creative thoughts.

Playfully Use Your Imagination 

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Overlooking the valley where I live is Mt.Timpanogos. The mountain’s outline resembles a sleeping Indian maiden. There are several legend explaining the story which goes something like this:

“A Young Native American maiden, whose lover had to go to war, climbed to the summit of what is now known as Mount Timpanogos to await his return. But, alas, he was killed in battle and never returned to claim her for marriage. She stayed up on the mountain, still waiting, not knowing of his fate until she eventually died of a broken heart.” 

The legend also states that Mt. Timpanogos continues to possesses a female spirit. The outline of the mountain ridge does resemble an Indian maiden lying on her back.  My kids had a hard time visualizing the Indian maiden so I love this illustration:

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A few miles away, up Provo Canyon, many of the rock formations have a rugged gray color and rough textural lines similar to an elephant’s skin.  Do you see the elephants at the entrance of the canyon?

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Here is another elephant rock formation for your imagination:

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Do you ever see images in nature?

Try it—it’s a great way to reconnect to the wonder, curiosity, and joy you experienced as a child and an inexpensive but effective method to reduce stress.

Author David Richo says, “Open yourself to the realization that nature is always communicating with you.” He continues, “Make contact with nature in different ways each day. Commune with it silently and in dialogue. Nature is the mother of a sense of belonging, and that is a sense of self.”

Nature’s Medicine

Native Americans use the phrase ‘animal [or flower] medicine’ when you are able to connect with nature.  I found my own “flower medicine” one day while working in my yard. I was in a sad, pity-me mood when I noticed a small patch of Forget-Me-Not flowers growing in my yard. I had planted the seeds years ago but the flowers were just now making an appearance. I studied one blossom very closely.

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As I looked at the center of it, I saw a tiny outline of a star in the apex—it looked to me like the Star of David, an ancient symbol of interconnectedness. To me, it was a tender mercy reminding me of my value and my interconnectedness to God and the universe. It was medicine to my soul.

Play Outside!

There is sage wisdom in frustrated mothers telling their rambunctious, active children to “go play outside.” So when you are feeling overwhelmed with managing your stress as an adult, follow Mom’s advice and “go play outside”.


Camille Foster, LCSW

Contact Me / Provo Counseling Center/ 801.472.7134/ 


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Sources: Richo, David (2005), The Five Things We Cannot Change: and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them (Boston: Shambhala).

Thanks to Julie at for the Timp pic and legend explanation

Indian Maiden drawing by Joe Offret

Drawing of Elephants: Ashmae


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