Wild camping might not be your first thought when it comes to self-care and beating stress. But modern life is draining, and sometimes we need to check in on our basic needs and focus back on the body and mind — easier said than done when you can’t escape from social media notifications and work emails. Sleeping outdoors can put you back in touch with nature, and offer you the headspace you need to refocus.
Wild camping, also called free, freedom, or dry camping involves finding somewhere that isn’t an official campsite, and sleeping there without leaving a trace. While you do need to make sure you’re doing it safely and legally, you’re able to choose exactly where you want to sleep: as close or far from home as you feel comfortable. From the effort you expend to get to your campsite to the joy of completing a challenge, you’ll experience all sorts of proven stress-busting techniques in just one night away from home. Here are a few reasons why wild camping is the ultimate de-stressor.
1. You’ll reconnect to the environment.
Between the car, the office, and the rooms of our homes, many of us spend a lot of time in confined spaces. A lunchtime walk in a built-up environment is great, but it might not make you feel the awesome power of nature in the way you do when you’re lying under a star-flecked sky. Being out in nature has been linked to positive emotions, including feeling a oneness with the universe. Not only does reconnecting with nature offer perspective on our stressors, but it has also been shown to reduce rumination and obsessive thoughts, and it helps you feel powerful emotions like awe, which can lift your mood.
2. You’ll work up a sweat and breathe more deeply.
Not every wild camping trip needs to be an endurance marathon, and a night outside is a refreshing change of scenery even in your own backyard. But adding in some rhythmic exercise, like walking, running, or cycling, is a proven stress-buster. Getting the blood pumping also encourages deep diaphragmatic breathing, which can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, calming you down. Enjoy the natural euphoria of a body pumped with endorphins when you reach your destination and soak up the view.
3. You’ll complete lots of manageable goals.
Stress can make us feel like whatever efforts we are putting in just aren’t enough. If your stress revolves around a to-do list that spawns more items every time you tick something off, set goals for your wild camping trip that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. They might not be easy to complete but they don’t have to be complicated: “reach the top of the hill before the sun goes down” is a perfect example. And if you don’t manage it this time, don’t beat yourself up. The hill will be there for another attempt.
4. No signal, no stress.
Our cell phones can be really bad for our stressed-out brains. Constant swiping through links and ads vying for attention can make us more impulsive, always waiting on the next notification. Smartphone compulsion is even a recognized addition. A digital detox becomes much easier when there’s no signal, and when you’re focussed on the fun you’re having in the moment.
5. You’ll experience some healthy fear at night.
It’s natural to feel scared when you’re bedding down outside, and I still do, especially in the woods as it gets to twilight and the owls start hooting. Fear and anxiety are important survival mechanisms, but chronic stress can increase the number of connections in the brain that enable our fear response, encouraging hypersensitivity for things that cannot really hurt us. Sleeping amongst the animals and being exposed to the weather makes for tangible fears that can be qualified, adjusted for, and accepted or rejected. It’s a real test of bravery that we don’t experience often in our relatively comfortable modern lives.
6. The morning is a time for quiet reflection.
It’s hard not to be present in the moment when you wake up outdoors, quietly reflecting as you bask in your natural surroundings. Being mindful of exactly how you feel and taking time out for yourself is tough at home when there are so many distractions. By stripping all of that away, you give yourself a chance to think about the important things — or think about absolutely nothing at all.