The Healing Power of Nature in Recovery

nature in recovery

“The greener the setting, the more the relief.”   Richard Louv

Let’s face it. Recovering from substance use disorders isn’t easy. There’s so much more to it than simply giving up chemicals. The habits that we’ve developed around using and at least some of the habits we’ve developed in other areas of our lives, need to change. We begin to experience the thoughts and feelings that either drove us to use or contributed to our continued use. We start working through grief, regret, and trauma, and many of us discover emotional issues and old hurts that we had buried. We have to learn how to live our lives differently. We begin to change the ways we think and act in the world. The process can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are many resources out there to help us along on our journeys. Treatment centers, addiction professionals, and community support groups can serve as foundational features of our recovery. There are also tons of books to read, classes we can take, and lectures we can attend that are dedicated to sobriety and recovery from substance use disorders. We can hire recovery or sobriety coaches, have sponsors, and access therapists and psychiatrists to help us on our way. There’s so much help available.

In addition to the facilities, groups, and people that are dedicated to helping us on our road to recovery, we can also take advantage of something that is free and often readily available to many of us just outside our front doors.

Nature – the trees, grass, flowers, rocks, sky, water, and sunshine. Poets, artists, writers, and scientists have always known that time spent in nature is healing. Spending time in nature can serve as a balm for our bodies, minds, and spirits during early recovery and beyond. There are also some very specific health benefits that only nature can provide. Below, we’ll share 5 of those benefits, and then we’ll send you off with a list of ideas for getting out into the natural world.

Getting outside in nature can improve immunity and mood, both of which may suffer during active addiction and in early recovery. It may also hold a key to easing cravings from some substances, specifically opioids. How do you ask? The answer is simple. Vitamin D. Vitamin D, which we absorb from sunlight helps our immune system work better and improves mood.

The best way to naturally get Vitamin D needs is to spend 10 to 30 minutes in the mid-day sun several times a week. To protect your skin, it’s best to apply SPF sun protection if you plan to stay out longer than 30 minutes. The amount of time you need in the sun varies based on your skin tone and sun sensitivity and your location – those further north will need more time, those closer to the equator, less.

Spending time in nature improves concentration, which can be difficult to maintain in early recovery. In a 2015 study, researchers found that people who took micro-breaks from their office jobs and spent time looking at greenery experienced better concentration. The study participants didn’t have to do anything but look at nature.

Getting outside keeps the rumination monster at bay. Rumination is a distressing pattern of thinking that usually involves returning to a negative self-thought or an evasive problem over and over again. This thinking pattern is associated with both depression and anxiety and isn’t uncommon in early recovery. Researchers in a 2015 study found that people who spent 90 minutes out walking in nature per day experienced less rumination than those who did not get outside.

Spending time in nature can help ease insomnia. Sleep disturbances, whether it’s not falling asleep, waking often, or waking and not being able to return to sleep, are fairly common issues for people in recovery from substance use disorders. Not sleeping well can make everything else seem harder. Getting outside can be helpful in at least two ways.

Outdoor activities tend to involve at least some form of light exercise; we move just a little more than we do when we’re streaming a movie on the computer. Exercise improves sleep. Getting outside regularly, especially in the early morning light, can help improve your sleep and your daytime functioning by restoring a more natural rhythm to your body.

Getting outside in nature can help shift boredom and improve mindfulness at the same time. Boredom is a dangerous space for many people in early recovery.  Nature is an antidote for boredom because it is full of invitations to curiosity. There are things to see, touch, smell, hear and even taste that are new to senses that have been closed up inside and in front of a screen. Those curiosities can lead us toward greater attention, and that attention can increase mindfulness, which has many benefits of its own.

Nature in recovery is medicine for human beings, and it has been proven to be effective for people with substance use disorders. We’re not going to leave you with a list of benefits wondering how to bring the magic into your life, so here’s a list of 21 ways to connect with the world outside your front door.

  • Walk around the neighborhood
  • Forage for plants
  • Join a bird-watching group or get an app on your phone
  • Go rock hunting
  • Hike
  • Go tubing
  • Swim in a lake, river, or the ocean
  • Rock climb
  • Jog or run outside
  • Go to the park
  • Start a garden or volunteer at a garden
  • Go camping
  • Go fishing
  • Ski
  • Snowshoe
  • Go boating
  • Go water skiing
  • Roller skate outside
  • Skateboard at the park
  • Join an outdoor team sport
  • Sit next to your window or on your porch to get a hit of nature even when you’re tired or ill

LUNA Recovery Services Can Help You Recover

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a substance use disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You can reach out to us here at Luna Recovery Services today.

Kemény, L. V., Robinson, K. C., Hermann, A. L., Walker, D. M., Regan, S., Yew, Y. W., & Fisher, D. E. (2021). Vitamin D deficiency exacerbates UV/endorphin and opioid addiction. Science Advances, 7(24), eabe4577.

Raman, R., (April 28, 2018). How to safely get Vitamin D from sunlight. Healthline. Retrieved from on June 2, 2022.

Lee, K.E., Williams, K.J.H., Sargent, L.D., Williams, N.S.G, & Johnson, K.A., (2015). 40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 182-289,

Bratman, G.N, Hamilton, J.P, Hahn, K.S., & Gross, J.J., (June 29, 2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenus prefrontal cortex activation. PNAS.

Johns Hopkins Medicine (2022). Exercising for better sleep. Retrieved from,to%20medical%20treatments%20for%20insomnia on June 2, 2022.