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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Get Outdoors and Find Yourself

Dec 26, 2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine

Trail Blazer

January 2020
Story by Rachel Trigueiro
Photos by Peter Amend

FEELING STRESSED? Tired? Anxious? Sad? Angry? Depressed? Head for the trees.

Although avoiding one’s emotions is never recommended, escaping day-to-day reality is. In fact, doctors are now prescribing nature.

Research shows simply sitting outside can reduce blood pressure and lower the heart rate. In addition, time outside free of distractions relieves stress, while longer periods in nature can lower cortisol levels for days. The benefits of getting outdoors are innumerable. From emotional and mental wellness to overall physical well-being, nature offers a free antidote to life’s ills. 

For many, anxiety and depression is crippling. Finding techniques to ease the pain, in addition to seeking help when necessary, is essential to finding wholeness. It can be challenging in a noisy world saturated with stimulation. Being outside offers the mind a moment of silence.

Over several years of transition, moving to Northern California and back, job and financial changes and new schools for her kids, Visalia resident Lori Riley experienced increased stress and anxiety. She noticed when she was outside she felt lighter and calmer with a fresh perspective, so she began intentionally weaving it into her family’s life.
“It is one of the ways I can take a deep breath and feel my anxiety dissipating. It’s been a space where I connect with God. I’m reminded of how big and powerful He is and how He cares in the most detailed ways.”

She recalls one of her favorite passages in the Bible, “Jesus is talking about anxiety and tells us to look at the way he cares for the birds and how beautifully He has made the flowers of the field. If He has taken such great care of these things, won’t He care for me and my needs?” Riley has taken this invitation to look at the birds and consider the flowers more literally, which is making a major impact on her anxiety levels.

“Getting out of the house, away from technology and the demands of life and into nature as a family has brought a lot of connection, play and the ability for my kids to be kids. Our man-made environments, offices and public school settings do not nurture the curiosity, discovery, play, creativity and sense of wonder we are often lacking.”

Spending time outdoors for Riley often looks like gardening, watching a bird, taking her dog for a walk, hiking with her family or going to the river.

Fortunately, the San Joaquin Valley has many opportunities to explore just a short drive away. 

Fresno native Kori Friesen prioritizes her outside time in the midst of a busy life by hiking and biking. “Being in nature allows me to literally take a breath, recalibrate and appreciate other surroundings.”

She discusses working through significant trials in her life and the importance of finding something bigger than herself in those moments. “Some days, escaping my home seemed like a feat too big to hurdle. When I found myself standing on the shoreline of the ocean or looking out from the edge of a mountain, it helped me process my feelings from a different vantage point.”

Stepping out of the daily grind can widen our perspective. “Sitting peacefully, exerting energy or journeying to new destinations is good for the soul. I feel at my best emotionally and spiritually when I am also healthy physically,” Friesen says.

Similar to the body needing a cool down after a hard workout, the mind needs space to breathe, a place to rest. In nature, the body slows down, producing feelings of peace and causing one’s focus and concentration to increase, bringing respite from stress and anxiety for overactive minds. 

However, in a fast-paced, success-driven society, it can be easy to forget the importance of unplugging and connecting with nature. 

Sarah Amend of Visalia grew up on the east coast of Canada. Spending most of her childhood in the great outdoors, whether rain, snow or shine, Amend acknowledges the significant role Mother Nature plays in our lives. 

“Being outside is where I feel most alive and well. I want my own daughters to experience the freedom it brings, exploring, imagining and getting dirty.” Amend says when she is outside, she feels invigorated. “It’s like taking a big deep breath; I feel space and freedom.”

Engaging multiple senses at a time brings nature to life with a sense of childlikeness, sparked joy and wonder. So the next time you step outside, instead of trying to capture the moment with your phone, practice immersing yourself into the moment. 

Try using several senses, not just sight. Get down and touch the crispy leaves with your kids, smell the pine fresh air and focus your gaze down the trail, listening for the stream as it dances by. Take a mental picture, pondering what you see for 10 quiet seconds. 

Rather than enjoying nature from afar, find yourself among it, feel it, breathe it in and be changed by it. From the mountains to the ocean, the San Joaquin Valley offers a beautiful playground for adults and children alike to unplug and connect with the outdoors. •

Rachel Trigueiro,  twin mom of four, loves adventuring with her family, especially near the beach. She holds a degree in business, but believes living in other countries and cultures offered her the greatest education. She dreamed of being a talk-show host; now, she enjoys story telling and drinking blonde coffee.