My guide to wellness outdoors (for the mentally well or unwell)
By Sadie Eisner (CXB ’23)
For someone as cushioned in certain habits and material luxuries as I am, it can be a very daunting experience to suddenly be immersed in a lifestyle that seems far from what I’m used to. Suddenly, my little shower has turned into no shower; my Brita has turned into a gravity filter (which may or may not be filled with sediment). But, as someone who – despite my struggles with anxiety and depression – looks to challenge themselves, I have come to the right place. Wild Rockies Field Institute found me, like kismet, at a time when I was searching for a way to reduce my dependencies on simple pleasures like a charged phone and a grocery store down the road.
So here, in my non-expert experiential opinion, are my steps for ensuring my mental health doesn’t plummet along with my hygiene as I spend 6 weeks outdoors:
- Make friends.
Now, I can admit that this is where I feel lucky. The people that I am so delighted to be joined with have become close friends – what feels like family. I can’t say this experience, these immediate clicks, are something that people can necessarily control, but being outdoors and having good friends makes being more mentally stable a lot easier.
- Figure out a routine. Or rather, be okay with not having one.
Like many other people who find mental regulation a struggle, stepping away from my routine was definitely a rocky adjustment (pun intended). But, finding small things like a regular sleep schedule, allocated reading and writing time, and a decent skincare routine can go a long way. And whenever I don’t have access to these little routines, I have had to learn to be okay with the unknown. Plans change. Weather forecasts aren’t always right. You get sick, you get hurt, you get tired, you get frustrated: but at the end of the day, you are forced to relinquish a lot of control, and there is so much comfort to be found in that.
- Find time to do what you enjoy.
I personally love to write and read, and this time has given me so much freedom to sink my teeth into both my academic content and my choice books. I have loved not having my phone, computer, nor any other screen to distract me from what I came here to participate in. I am able to give a lot of care and attention to my readings, and thus I am more engaged and more stimulated than ever. Plus, I’ve been here for 3 weeks and read 3 books – a goal I’ve wanted to achieve for a while now but have never had the time.
- Eat well.
“Well” is definitely subjective – I have eaten a lot of Kraft mac n cheese, lukewarm oats, instant coffee, and so many different types of bars I lost count. But getting in enough protein, enough carbs, and sneaking in some fruits and vegetables can make you feel (shocking news) a lot better. But most importantly – water. Dehydration makes me irritable, and group morale plummets in response. Sorry to my fellow CXB pals for that.
- Honor the sacredness of sleep
I have been lucky enough to be blessed with a good ability to sleep, even outdoors on rugged ground. I have found peace in my sleeping bag, peace in a pillow that is a stuff sack with my down puffer in it, and a white noise machine in the sounds of birds and wind and rain around me. Plus, my tent-mates are all on the same page as me – sleep is the most essential form of self-care.
- Accept the ups and downs.
I am not gonna preach to you all that my mental health is linear, predictable, and in my control. There have been days when I have been more depressed than I can explain a reason for and when I have been more anxious than I am okay with. But, realizing my family is waiting for me at home and my friends here have my best interests at heart have calmed my nerves more than I can say. Plus, utilizing all of these coping mechanisms, these strategies for sanity have been a great way to get to know myself more.
To accompany these words, it’s only fitting to share pictures. Here is a little menagerie of photos to summarize these experiences:
This is Synch. Synch is an angel of a mutt who we met while staying at the Aspenwood resort outside of Browning, Montana.
This little guy helped with my separation anxiety from my dog at home, and he offered a bright light and a shoulder to cry on when days got overwhelming. Clearly I love and miss him a lot, and I hope he feels the same.
This is me finding joy in the small things, or shall I say, the giant mushrooms. We found this on one of our days backpacking in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and it reminded me how weird and cool and fascinating the most mundane elements of the wilderness can be. Find Fiona Medeiros, my beloved tent-mate, peering over my shoulder to catch a peek at that monster mycelium!
The keen eye can find a hidden Emma Kraus, my fellow WRFI student and UC Berkeley undergraduate, peeing in a raspberry patch outside Missoula, Montana. Accepting and making light of everyone’s (unpredictable) bodily functions is another interesting side effect of spending so much time together outdoors. These experiences offer memories and bountiful laughs to last much longer than this summer.
Overall, this experience has triggered growth that even I could not have predicted. Not only within my own mind, but strengthening my body, my academic stamina, and my social battery have been welcomed rewards of spending this summer with Wild Rockies Field Institute. Thank you for reading and following along with our outdoor adventures!