Mental health and recreation: Are we having fun yet?

As we are now into the summer months, I am reminded of the Life Journey adventures that await us in the form of recreation. Recreation, when we “Re-Create” our selves; when we bring ourselves into balance with nature and with our inner selves.

Summer months are the time when we plan for vacation and other recreational activities that are so essential to maintaining healthy balance in our life. We have labored and toiled through the autumn, winter, and spring months, and now it is time to re-create.

Quite naturally we as humans, being made up of over 60% water, are naturally drawn to water and it has been theorized that is the reason why we seek out the sea, lakes, rivers, etc. for serenity in our lives. We also have a genetic based natural relationship with our environment; the trees, forests, foliage, mountains, etc.; it is inherent in us to seek out the environment to find peace and tranquility in our lives…to recreate ourselves.

In those spring months we noticed the migration of the Geese back from Mexico, going north to their breeding and feeding grounds.

The various birds nesting, flowers blooming, and the Mesquite trees are in full foliage….Spring has come and gone, and we are in the full froes of summer.

We can’t help noticing all of this because it is in our nature to do so. The national, state, and city park systems are all geared up with plans for all of the visitors that will take part in their activities; preparing the way for us to re-create ourselves.

We are most fortunate to be living in the Rio Grande Valley, which offers us so many recreational areas and activities; State and national parks, a national seashore, and many city and county parks.

So often we take for granted our relationship with nature and how it interplays with our psychological, mental health. Recreation and the interrelationship with our environment not only feed our physical selves, but our psychological, social, and spiritual selves as well.

Our brain needs to be fed by recreation. Recreating and playing release neurochemicals such as endorphins and serotonin, those chemicals responsible for us having good feelings and bringing about homeostasis; a balance within ourselves.

The stressors we endure from day to day caused by our labors and toil, family problems, educational problems, etc., rob of us those essential brain chemicals… we become frustrated and stressed out.

Connecting with nature helps to increase the essential brain chemicals, to balance out our neural pathways and cells in the brain. They essentially become re-created and achieve relaxation. Have you heard of “runners high?” Have you felt much better after sitting by a babbling brook or a pond? Have you been to a park and just strolled down the paths enjoying the trees, foliage and flowers?

Have you watched the hummingbirds as they flit from flower to flower lapping up that nectar? Have you enjoyed a friendly game of softball with friends and family?

Do you feel that sense of well-being after swimming that lap in the pool? Have you stood in awe in looking at those majestic mountains, or that Grand Canyon? Those are just some examples, my friends, of the experience of having endorphins and serotonin released into the pleasure centers of our brain that present Natural Highs; without the synthetic effects to our brains reward circuitry brought on by the use of illicit chemical substances and alcohol.

Have you and yours relaxed without the need of alcohol, pot, and pills to do so…I mean, really relaxed?

Now I know what some of you are saying; “Now Dr. Jones, I love my job and I feel good after a full day’s work.” Well that is true. Working hard and playing hard has always been essential to good mental health, and enjoyable labor does feed our brain. I am reminded of my days in military service, where we worked hard and played hard when off duty. But, there are those that are in high stress jobs, or often find their job tasks to be stressful; where the stress reduction relaxation and recreation is often neglected.

High stress jobs, people who do not find pleasure in their jobs, living in the past, having “idle hands,” placing emotions over intellect, etc., are all conducive to having an out of balance condition…a lack of the essential brain chemicals that give us balance. Studies have consistently shown that people who balance their work with true relaxation and recreation are more mentally and physically healthy than those who do not.

The people of our nation have grown much more sedentary over the years, leading to obesity and idleness among many; which paves the way for not only poor physical health but poor mental health as well. Opting to find balance in life is becoming much more challenging for many.

A major component of recreation is play. We parents often get our children involved in play; in sports, etc., but how often do we adults play? Family events pose an excellent time for playing together, or actually anytime. Playing board games, throwing a ball, croquet, badminton, walking in the park together, etc. will not only provide the physical and mental exercise so needed, but the socialization benefits are great. So come on Folks! Tear yourself away from that dinner table, the computer, that big screen TV; and recreate with fun and enjoyable activities with your children, other family members and friends; and doing so without the need.