YouthZone column: Youth learn to connect with nature to reduce stress
Advice From A Tree: “Stand Tall and Proud. Sink your roots into the Earth. Be content with your natural beauty. Drink plenty of water. Enjoy the view.*”
When working with young clients, YouthZone’s advocates and counselors focus on methods of restoration for the adolescent, their families, and their communities. From the Restorative Justice Program to Life Skills Classes and Community Service, youth are immersed in healing practices.
Nature is woven into our very being. If nature is so capable as to produce life, could it not also heal? YouthZone’s Restorative Justice Coordinator Karen Barbee said, “When we sit in solitude in nature we are reminded of our intrinsic wisdom — that we are all born wise.”
Our Life Skills Classes encourage kids to connect with nature as a coping mechanism to relieve stress. During these strange times of quarantine and confinement, people can get anxious and edgy when cooped up indoors or restricted in their movements. While we need to adhere to the local safety guidelines, we remind teenagers that it’s OK and helpful to spend time outside.
One of our YouthZone clients said that during the home-bound restrictions of the Shelter at Home period in Colorado, he would find relief by stepping outside at night to look at the stars.
In the Glenwood Springs office where most Restorative Justice processes take place, you’ll find a large piece of limestone. It’s placed in that room with intention to symbolize the power of transformation. Over time, limestone becomes marble as the pressure of the earth transforms the sedimentary rock into a metamorphic rock that is highly valued by our society.
Many Restorative Justice contracts include spending time in nature — walking with a parent to reconnect, taking the family dog outside or playing a favorite sport.
Research shows that visiting green spaces may be a simple and affordable way to improve heart health. Time Magazine’s article The Healing Power of Nature** published in 2016 shared results from studies that showed 40 minutes of walking through a forest reduces the stress hormone cortisol. The result was lowered blood pressure and better immune system function.
YouthZone’s community service requirements also provide opportunities for kids to spend time outdoors. We suggest starting a garden, practicing responsibility with an animal, reading a book in the grass, or painting a sunset.
For some kids, spending time with an animal is powerful. Just petting an animal lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.
Airen Goodman, YouthZone’s CYDC/Senate Bill 94 Coordinator, said she sees positive changes when her clients work at the Rifle Animal Shelter. “Often, kids can be really resistant to us at first. Once they connect with nature or with animals, it’s like their true self comes out.”
Sitting still outside can also be beneficial and spark wonder. You might contemplate the endless flow of the river, or you might plan how you will climb a mountain and the equipment you’ll need. These thoughts can be more productive than scrolling through endless social media posts.
One of the YouthZone clients shared how being outdoors helped her. “Being in nature is like another outlet to be active. It helps me not think about the stress of the moment. It takes my mind off of the things at hand.”
It’s easy for any of us to focus on what’s going wrong in the world. But when you contemplate the vastness of the Rocky Mountains, the detail in a pine tree, or the miracle of how your seed sprouted into a vegetable, you realize that there is a lot that is right with the world.
Katie Westcott is YouthZone’s Youth Advocate II. Katie previously worked as a family meeting facilitator at YouthZone and now is responsible for case management in Rifle. She completed her master’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Health in 2018 from Grand Canyon University.
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