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Holistic nature-based adventure programs to treat anxiety

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While talk therapy is still a popular option for those who struggle with anxiety, it is not the only available or most effective option. Young adult and adolescent  therapy is moving away from enclosed rooms and out into the world, where nature and adventure drive the therapeutic experience. This type of experience-based therapy, sometimes known as Outdoor Adventure Therapy (and incorrectly confused with wilderness adventure therapy), is proving more effective in treating anxiety than traditional one-dimensional options.

A program to treat young people with anxiety should have the following elements:

  • Adventure
  • Intentional exposure to nature
  • Group therapy
  • Individual talk therapy
  • Clinical sophistication and preparedness for dual diagnosis
  • A holistic wellness approach includes a good nutrition program, yoga or other mindfulness practices, and daily physical activity.

Adventure activities like hiking, rafting, climbing, or surfing allow students to confront perceived limitations and push past them. One of the most effective treatments for anxiety is “exposure therapy,” or intentionally exposing the person to anxiety-inducing situations over time. In overcoming challenges associated with adventure, a student faces anxieties and learns effective coping skills through personal experience.

Nature and physical contact with the natural world relieve stress and anxiety and increase feelings of connectedness with self and others. The human body and brain evolved to react positively to natural patterns (trees, forests, flowers, clouds, etc.) and natural light, so even just being outside can make a subtle shift in our moods. Returning the body to its normal circadian rhythm (waking with the sun) also helps reduce stress.

Group and individual therapy provide a good balance of support and accountability for young adults as they go through their therapeutic processes. Individual talk therapy provides clinical depth to the student experience and allows students to explore the root causes of their anxiety. A group of peers fosters therapeutic mentorship and provides a safe space for students to try new coping skills.

A holistic approach to wellness is important for programs designed to help young adults and teens. Good self-care, hygiene, and organization habits relieve subtle anxiety triggers. The best programs for young adults with anxiety would also include a focus on nutrition for a healthy mind and body, daily exercise, time for journaling or reading, and some sort of mindfulness practice, whether it is yoga or meditation.

Outdoor Adventure Therapy works by combining therapeutic techniques and external stimuli. In other words, in a holistic program, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Simply taking time away from all of the stressors of “real life” and distractions like cell phones and social media can be refreshing for a young person suffering from anxiety-related burnout.  Outdoor Adventure Therapy programs are highly effective and can be a good option for young adults with anxiety struggling in the mainstream of life. These programs generally last 2-3 months and can often fit into a gap semester or year.

If you want more information on how to manage anxiety, download our free white paper- “Young Adult Anxiety.”

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This white paper was sponsored by Pure Life, a research-based Outdoor Adventure Therapy program for young adults located in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Pure Life offers safe, effective, and clinically sophisticated treatment options for young adults.

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