Self-Care in the Summer: Go Outside!
It can be really tempting to stay inside all summer long. Here in Louisiana, it’s already oppressively hot and muggy, which makes the siren song of the air conditioner hard to resist. Then there are all kinds of festivals going on, the pools are crowded (and I can’t swim anyway), and with kids out of school there seem to be people everywhere. Against all of that, staying inside playing video games or binging Good Omens for the third time sounds like a great idea. Self-care, right? Umm…not so much. Real self-care means doing things that are good for you, not just what’s comforting, so I’m sorry to have to tell you but you need to get outside a bit. Self-care in the summer requires getting out and spending some time around green, growing things. Hermits need sunshine, too, and here’s why.
You probably know that Vitamin D is “the sunshine vitamin”, meaning that our bodies can’t produce vitamin D without sunlight. Low vitamin D is linked with a whole host of mental and physical health issues, including depression, osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer. You can get some vitamin D through your diet (fatty fish are a good source), but the best way to get it is through sun exposure. The Vitamin D Council says you can get all the vitamin D you need each day in about half the time it would take your skin to burn.
As a very fair-skinned Southerner, it’s drilled into me to never go outside for more than a few minutes between 11am-2pm in the summer. But a short walk in the morning before it gets too nasty is certainly do-able. Spending 10 minutes or so in the garden watering or pruning is another easy option. I’m also a big fan of hitting the local park and getting a little time on the swings before the kids get there.
Green is good
Getting outside is possibly the simplest and easiest lifestyle change you could ever make for your health. Spending time in green spaces, be they wild woods or city parks, provides a ton of benefits for your body and mind. An Australian study found that just 30 minutes a week in nature could be enough to see noticeable results.
Spending time in green spaces is associated with faster healing from surgery or illness, increased serotonin and dopamine levels, lower blood pressure, and lower levels of the hormone cortisol, which, in high amounts, contributes to weight gain, acne, and fatigue, among other unpleasant symptoms. And all that is just from being outdoors! If you’re walking, playing with your dog, tossing a frisbee with a friend, or otherwise being active while you’re outside, all those physical boons will be amplified.
Mental and psychological benefits
Going outside is good for your mind, too! For instance, it lowers your stress. That cortisol I mentioned above? That’s a physical stress marker – the higher your stress, the higher your cortisol, and vice versa. Beyond that, studies have shown that walking in nature improves your mood, gives you a reset from mental fatigue, and improves working memory and executive function, which I could definitely use some help with.
Lower risk of death
Recently, a study found that social isolation could be as much of a risk factor for early death as lack of exercise or obesity. Now, this was across the general population and may not apply the same way to people on the autism spectrum, but still, it worries me. On the bright side, spending time outdoors reduces the risk of premature death along with all those other physical benefits I talked about earlier. For me, at least, going outside more often is easier than trying to build up a social life.
I am emphatically not an outdoorsy person. I am, in fact, the kind of person who would prefer to almost never leave the house if I could help it. The truth is, though, that my health has suffered because of that and I need to get outside more often, just like I need to work out more. Real self-care is part of being a responsible adult, and it’s up to each of us to take care of ourselves even when it isn’t fun – and hopefully to make it fun so that we’ll do it. So go outside, take a walk in the park, and get a little sun (but not enough to burn) and see how you feel.
Do you consider yourself an outdoorsy person? What’s your favorite outdoor activity? Have you noticed a real difference in how you feel when you spend time outdoors as opposed to staying indoors? Any tips for us indoorsy hermits to help us get outside and enjoy it?