The February edition of Psychology Today, features an article by Andy Tix about warm temperature ambivalence. Enjoying unseasonably warm weather on the one hand versus an appreciation for “normal” seasonal temperatures on the other hand. If February would have found me ambivalent, then this September, after an extremely hot summer finds me, more than ambivalent, downright concerned and a little bit despondent.
As a consummate outdoors-man and naturalist, many of the suggestions I offer clients involve connecting to the world around them through outdoor activity. Some of the activities I recommend, and sometimes assign as between session therapeutic “homework” include walking in a park, hiking, kayaking, gardening, and swimming in the yam, the sea. Aside from offering these suggestions to clients, first-and-foremost, I offer them to myself to maintain my own mental and emotional balance and equilibrium. However this summer has been so hot (this is especially true for those of us, like myself, who live in places like Tiberias and the Jordan River Valley) that it’s been mostly an indoor summer. The heat has been so intense that, since July, I’ve been indoors most of the day unable to do much outdoor activity, and I’ve been unable to recommend outdoor activity to anyone else. In fact, recently, for the first time I can ever remember, I discouraged several people from going hiking or kayaking as I felt it was too hot to be safe. Heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and sun poisoning are real and serious threats to our health. If, like Andy Tix suggests, this hot weather marks the global warming trend, in which case next summer may be even hotter than this summer, I am led to ask the question: If outdoor activity is greatly restricted during the summer months, in what ways can I, and my clients, connect with nature and with the outdoors?
To this end I’ve done several things which seem to be working; as such, I’ll start recommending several of the following to clients. Rather than going far from the house, my children and I started a lovely little vegetable garden right in our backyard. Although it’s still too hot to go out into the yard during midday, we go out later in the afternoon. We put our hands in the soil, water, plant seeds, pull weeds, turn the compost pile, and feel connected to a cycle of life that came before us, will be after us, and extends well beyond us. Another thing we did was to purchase a house plant, an aloe vera bush. My mother used to keep houseplants and I never understood the appeal of it until this summer. Its nice having something green and alive in our living room. Next to the aloe vera bush, also in the livingroom, much to the consternation of my fifteen year old, we started an indoor worm compost farm. Its neat, tidy, you don’t see the worms. We feed it vegetable scraps. When looking at the worm bin, we feel a sense of excitement. In the process of breaking down our food waste, the worms are making humus that will then go into the vegetable garden feeding the soil that feeds that plants that we will eat, and so goes the cycle of decay and growth, a cycle that keeps us well and in balance.
The great American psychiatrist, Dr. Milton H. Erickson once recommended to a woman suffering from severe chronic depression who was too upset to leave her home that she begin cultivating African Violets to give as gifts to members of her church. She followed his characteristically unorthodox advice and, heavily involved with botanical cultivation and visiting “flower recipients,” her depression melted into joy. While I do look forward to getting back into the woods and onto my kayak and recommending my clients to get involved in outdoor activity, I’m also grateful for the opportunity this summer has brought to learn ways of bringing the great outdoors into the confines of our backyards, porches, and living rooms.
Tags: anxiety, Depression, Gardening, Hiking, Nature, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Summer