Teenage years are a flurry of ups and downs. They can be a turbulent time, but they can also be a path towards self-discovery. They’re the time when you get to learn who you are and who you want to become.
Our staff at Swim Drink Fish, the nonprofit behind Great Lakes Guide, have all realized how important getting outside and connecting with nature was during our formative years.
Nature can be an escape from daily worries. It can be a friend in a world of bullies. It will always be there for you, waiting to welcome you with open arms.
Here is our advice to our younger selves about the importance of connecting to nature as a teenager.
“I was considered a ‘tomboy’ growing up and often felt more at ease playing catch in a field with the boys than hanging out with the girls my age. I know how cruel life can seem when you’re a kid or a teen, and you feel like you don’t quite fit in.
Sometimes the hardest thing to be is yourself. The best thing about nature? She doesn’t care who you are, what you look like, or where you come from.
The flowers will bloom, the leaves will change colour, and the waves will rush over your feet as you press your toes into the sand.
This will all happen before your eyes, every year, no matter what. Nature is a constant in life. As you grow up, and everything changes so fast, nature will always welcome you with open arms.”
“Today, I saw old pictures of myself connecting with nature, making mud pies, playing with my cousins in my grandparents yard, sliding down a hill in the winter, dressed in traditional regalia throughout my childhood, having the most wonderful time a kid could have.
Reminiscing about my early preteens, technology was new. In my early teens, being connected to the outside world seemed more interesting than my own. Connecting to nature has been something I could always do, even before technology.
I always hold on to nature and remember how it feels to be connected to it. I still go out in nature to help me.
Having technology as a preteen may have given me some type of “happiness” from the likes and comments I would get. I know it all too well.
But I don’t think likes and comments matter, especially as I realize how much being in nature has helped me mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I wish I knew that when I was younger. I wish I could tell myself all the things that I didn't need to worry about.
As a indigneous two-spirit woman, I’m proud to say today that learning about my indigenous roots has also opened my eyes to a world that needs to be shared and connected with.
Take care of yourself, self-love is important. Giving love and appreciation to nature is important. Be present and grounded because you deserve it and you need it.”
“I wish I had known in my pre-teens and teens that being in nature helps reduce stress and anxiety. This didn’t become obvious to me until way later in life.
Being a teenager is hard, and I wonder if instead of hiding in bed, I had taken a walk near the river I might have managed my anxiety and stress in a healthier way.
Now that I’m in my thirties, I know that nature helps reduce my anxiety and helps me sleep better. It is a healthy coping mechanism that is now a big part of my life.
My advice is to start making it a hobby, visit your local park or beach early, now. Nature helps open your mind, heart, and creative side, and can help a lot when you’re going through a tough time.”
“In nature likes and comments don’t matter. The birds, the trees, the waves on the lake, and the stars in the sky don’t care who you are, what you look like, or how many social media likes you receive.
It is easy to be unplugged. Your only notifications are the sound of the birds chirping, the wind passing through trees, and the clouds in the sky above.
You might be out of your comfort zone, facing a new experience or exploring somewhere you’ve never been before. It will feel strange at first to be without a screen and a wifi connection.
But soon as you observe your surroundings and open yourself up to a new experience, your head starts to feel clearer. Your body lighter. You are free and more connected to the world around you than ever.
In nature, you can be whoever you want to be. Judgement-free.”
“When you’re a teenager, everything is hard. As much as I tried hard to fit in with others while being in a new country and learning English, I remember finding peace in solitude.
When I was in high school, I didn’t live close to parks. But I remember when I didn’t want to go home, I would go on top of the hills that would overlook the train tracks. I would sit there with my camera watching the sun set over the grass, and I would bathe in the sun rays while taking photos of the nature that I was able to capture.
Nature gave me peace and tranquility before entering back into the world full of people.
Now that I live close to Lake Ontario, I find peace from just being by the water. Running by the water, sitting by the water, and of course, getting into the water. When I breathe in the air from the water, it helps me ground myself and stay present.
So my advice to teenagers is this. Try spending some time by nature, or even just water. Try it alone. Sit by it, and just be. You may be surprised by how it can affect you.”
“To my younger self and to any teenagers reading this article:
“The nice thing about nature is that it is always going to be there. It might change or look a bit different but if you go to a place and take it in, it will become a fixture in your life.
A rock (sometimes literally) to rely on that will be there when you need it to be. That is why I recommend going and starting this relationship with a natural place.”
“Practicing mindfulness, being absolutely present in the moment, not in your head, not in the past or future, is so much simpler in nature. Take a walk, look at your surroundings. See the birds and hear their calls. Feel the wind and smell the flowers.
You can engage yourself fully, all your senses, in nature. And sometimes that’s all you need to get out of your head and see what’s going on from another perspective (very much pared down version of mindfulness).”
“If, like me, you find it hard to meditate, slow your brain down, sit still, or stop staring at your phone, I have found that creating a purpose to be in nature works just as well. It’s OK if meditation or stillness isn’t really your jam. As an adult, I realized that my constantly shifting energy might just be part of my personality. So I took up foraging and identifying.
I walk around in the woods and treat mushroom identification like a kind of game. It’s been really good for my mental health to have a reason to go for a walk. It feels a lot like a low tech version of Pokemon Go.
It could be done with anything, really! Trees, rocks, any plants, animals, you name it. When I’m scanning the woods and the tree canopy for identifiable things, my mind is completely engaged in LOOKING.
Whatever was on my mind before is on the back burner and I let the senses take over. It’s deeply calming for me and I wish I had discovered this hobby earlier.”
"Thinking back on it, I don't think I consciously knew that nature could reduce stress, but I remember so many times taking myself off on a nature walk to collect my thoughts. There was something very comforting in the total lack of judgement, the sense that you could be alone without feeling closed in.
Looking back I also realise that sometimes people were quick to dismiss my feelings because I was just a kid/teen, no one should ever do that. I found that natural places would allow me to just feel and process.
I struggled with my mental health and I found walking in a familiar natural place, somewhere I knew so well I wouldn't lose my footing even if my eyes were closed, gave me a sense of calm.
I still take myself to a nearby park or even a street with a lot of fall colours so I can walk and process my thoughts, somewhere my feet know the way so my brain can take a break and wander. I hope that you will find and make special the natural places near you, let them be a safe place when you need it."
“I didn’t figure this out until pretty recently, but there is nothing like a walk through a park, a forest—or even just down the street—that can take you out of your mind and re-connect you with the world around you.
The more I sat in my room, looking on my phone the more my anxiety would build up. When I was younger, I would let that anxiety wash over me and it would get pretty difficult to get out of that space.
Now I know that just getting outside (and getting off my phone) helps that anxiety and the thoughts that come with it fade away.
Getting into nature is such a wonderful way to get out of your head, because there are so many wonderful things happening outside that have nothing to do with instagram. It’s nice to let your mind wander and connect with the birds, the patterns in the clouds, or the busy squirrels!”