Stressed? Head outside.

The Parent Athlete by Ben Murphy

Spring has finally arrived! Well, ok, here in Upstate NY it remains cold and there’s still some snow on the ground and we’re now entering that pseudo-season that we simply refer to around here as “mud.” But there’s light at the end of the winter tunnel. What does that mean? It means you’re running out of excuses for not getting outdoors. And why, you ask, would you want to do that? Because you need to.

You see, in our modern, fast-paced world, it’s not just a nicety to get off the beaten path every once in awhile (preferably more often than that). It’s a physical and spiritual necessity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with offices, smart phones, and extra shot lattes; after all the fast pace of business in our professional lives can be awfully thrilling and rewarding. And coaching the kid’s little league team in between  helping them with homework and science fair projects is a lot of fun. But we need to keep things in perspective and understand that the thrill of a fast-paced, demanding life must be balanced eventually by something that rejuvenates our body and spirit, like being outdoors in nature. And this isn’t just some Walden Pond gobbledygook (um, yes, I‘ve always wanted to use the word ’gobbledygook’ in a column). Time spent outside is, quite literally, just what the doctor ordered. A recent study by Japanese researchers scientifically measured that time in nature lowers blood pressure, fights depression, heads off stress, and can even help prevent cancer. There isn’t a pharmaceutical on the market yet that can make those claims.

For me , this is what trail running accomplishes in my own life. I compete in “ultra” (marathon distance and longer) trail running races and that requires a lot of time training alone out in the woods self-supported. It’s pretty much impossible to spend that kind of time outdoors alone and not begin to make sense of things. I have yet to meet a stressful situation that hasn’t fallen into proper perspective during time spent out on the trails. That doesn’t mean the problems go away, it just means I develop enough understanding and clarity of a situation to move ahead without quite so much worry. I truly believe that these moments are critically important in keeping us grounded. In helping us process and value life. Immersing ourselves in an outdoor environment where our brains can detox and reboot a bit helps us begin to make heads and tails of things. Which is important, because we truly are bombarded – now possibly more than ever before in human history – with news, entertainment, media, work emails, text alerts, and the list goes on and on and on… And I fear that this cacophony has been a detriment to our quality of life and to the pleasure we miss in each passing moment. Somehow what with all our work responsibilities, the kid’s school schedules, smart phones, and constant deadlines, I fear that the depth of our lives is growing shallower.

So what’s a busy, overworked, tired, overwhelmed, stressed working parent to do? Slow down. I know it’s counterintuitive, and I know you think I’m off my rocker for suggesting it. But in my own experience as a busy parent and professional, I’ve found that I value the great outdoors not just because I enjoy trail sports, or because those sports have helped me lose a lot of weight and regain my quality of life… I value the great outdoors because it is, in many ways, a needed sanctuary which we can always visit in order to reset our compass towards what’s important in life. Our own thoughts and dreams. Our families. Our friends.

So I hope that as the days grow longer and warmer and as the world around us finally gets greener, that you will make time to venture outdoors without the distractions of our busy world Even if it‘s just for a few moments. Go for a hike. Take the kids camping. Go fishing. Dust off your bike. I know that you feel too busy now, but, trust me, the world won’t come to a screeching halt if you skip the dishes every once in awhile and head outside. the end

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