Courtney Weaver is joined by new Adventure psychologist Sarah Milam and Outdoor Education Center facilitator Jake Burgess to talk about how nature can help enhance every dimension of wellbeing – physical, purpose, community, financial, social, and emotional. For more information on outdoor programs at WVU, visit https://adventurewv.wvu.eduand for more information on Collegiate Recovery, visit https://recovery.wvu.edu

Transcription: 

Hey everyone. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to Wellbeing Wednesdays. I'm your host. Courtney Weaver. I'm the director over at WellWVU here at West Virginia University. Today. I have two guests, not one but two, which is always exciting. I'm joined by Sarah Milam, who is the new adventure psychologist, which is the best position title in history, three of the world.

Um, but that's the new joint position between the Carruth Center and Adventure West Virginia. And then we're also joined by Jake Burgess. And Jake has worked with collegiate recovery here on campus, and he works at the outdoor education facility, the outdoor education center. I can speak, um, as a challenge course facilitator.

Um, so welcome to both of you. Thanks so much for having us Courtney. Alright. So before we dive in about our topic today, which is using nature to promote wellbeing, uh, why don't you each take a minute or two and talk about your roles here at the university. Sorry. So I can go ahead and start. Um, my name is Sarah myeloma and I am, um, in the new position, the adventure psychologist position, working in a joint role with.

I've mentioned West Virginia and the Carruth Center. We know that, um, both of these units on campus are so focused on student wellness and providing opportunities for students to, um, engage in self-care, uh, holistic wellness. And, um, get more connected with themselves and with each other and live healthy, meaningful lives.

And so we decided to combine forces and create, um, kind of programs that have the best of both worlds. So programs that are outdoors, that are focused on wellness, where students can connect with each other, connect with nature and, um, and, and lead healthier lives. So we'll be. Building more of that programming coming here in the fall.

It's going to be interesting starting it emits a pandemic, but it will also be an exciting challenge and definitely needed right now. Oh for sure. And Jake, how about you? So my name is Jake and I have worked at WVU collegiate recovery department, as well as the outdoor education center with Adventure West Virginia.

So I've kinda been working in two different departments that. Uh, Sarah has streamlined into one, thankfully. So I'm actually super stoked that we're going to be starting programs that are more wellness based, um, in the outdoors. So, um, I'm just super excited and yeah. Hoping for go to antivirals soon.

Fingers crossed. Uh, all right, well, again, thank you so much for being here today. And so let's dive into our topic, which is using nature to promote wellness now for our avid listeners of there's probably about 26 of them. Um, and that's being generous. But, uh, in our, one of our first episodes, we actually talked about a WVU specific wellness wheel.

And we're, we'd love to talk a little bit more about how we can use nature to enhance, enhance each of those dimensions. So as a reminder for our listeners, those dimensions are physical. Purpose community financial, social, and general and emotional health. So let's first talk about physical. So can you both explain maybe a little bit how nature can enhance our physical wellness?

Yeah, that's a great question. So we know that when we're in nature, there's some benefits that were, we're receiving that we're, we're getting that we aren't even trying to get. So we know we're getting increased levels of vitamin D and that can help improve our immune system and help. Um, it can also help our mood to improve too.

Uh, when we're in nature, we're often. More physically active, which helps, um, helps our, our, our body in a lot of ways, whether it's, um, helping us to have good cardiovascular systems or, um, helping us to also improve our immune system. Um, and when we're, we're in nature, we also have found that, you know, studies have found that.

You're when you're still in nature, your blood pressure, um, is often reduced. Your, your breathing rate is often reduced and that I can help you to feel more calm and at peace. Um, so I think those are some of the ways that we know that outdoors you for small periods of time can really improve kind of your physical wellbeing and your overall.

Body system. What do you think, Jake, would you add any others? Uh, it's a physical benefits of being outdoors. Yeah. I mean, you, you covered all the bases basically. I mean, just bring bugspray so that you don't get both sides. Very true. That's a good call. Um, so now let's think about purpose. So how can nature sort of enhance one's sense of purpose or their spiritual self?

Do you want to start with this one? I can. Yeah. Um, so, uh, to me, uh, I guess the sense of self or value of oneself or a sense of purpose, um, can definitely be enhanced through being outdoors. So I, I know from coming from a recovery background or just in general, that. The way that society is nowadays, it's kind of like disassociated from each other.

And I think that just as, as human beings, we have these inherent skills, um, to be outdoors and to be able to participate in team building activities. And it can really enhance one's, uh, sense of volume oneself, a common purpose if they're doing a team building initiative. Um, I think that the benefits are, are exponential.

Um, Do you have anything to add? Yeah, I think that's great. I think, you know, when we're outdoors often we're connected to this idea that there's something bigger than us, that there's, um, something more beyond a smaller, intricate than us. And, uh, and that can really help us to have a sense of purpose. A lot of times people will talk about being in the outdoors, does help them to attach, you know, attach more to.

Uh, their spirituality and that sense of something bigger. And like Jake said, often being in the outdoors, um, is not a solo activity. Many times it is. And that's something that can feel very sacred to people, but often it's something that we're doing with other people. And so we're finding meaning and purpose and, um, connecting with others, helping others to, you know, overcome challenges in the outdoors, um, doing something beyond.

Connecting to our phones and, and that can really help, uh, help us to feel like there is something more because we're engaging with something more. We're engaging something beyond ourselves and beyond our phones. And, um, it helps us to see the world in a bigger, a bigger way. Great. And actually that leads into the next aspect of the wellness wheel, which is community.

So how can nature help to foster that community? You all, both kind of touched on it, but what are some other ways. So I think that, um, you know, here at that's Virginia university, some of the ways that we can use nature to tap into community, um, are through some of the programs that we have with Adventure West Virginia.

Um, but also some of the resources that are available to students, you know, often. Often, one of the things that we hear from students first, starting at the university, or, or even those who have been here for a long time is that it's really hard to create friendships, or it can be hard to, um, You know, develop deep friendships with people that you have only known for a few years or a few months or a few weeks and often, um, when we are so connected to technology that helps us in a lot of ways.

But in other ways, we can forget some of these simple ways to build close relationships. And one of those ways is by actually doing things together. Um, here at WVU, we have so many. Resources close to campus that students can walk to where you can go explore and engage creatively and learn more about where you are and, and get to know people and have deep conversations while you're walking in the queer Arboretum or going on the rail trail or renting some gear from a venture in West Virginia and going paddle boarding.

And I think, you know, through those shared experiences where you have fun and you laugh and you see something new and you engage creatively, that's one of the ways you really build deep. Meaningful and lasting friendships. And, and that can be important when you're in college, when it's a new place and you haven't, you know, grown up in literally with these people.

So it's important to go out and build some of those relationships by actually doing things together that are exciting and fun. And, um, and that really engage you in getting to know someone more deeply. What would you add to that? If anything, Jake. Yeah, no, I definitely agree. Um, and I think it's, it's really apparent with, um, like doing low ropes exercises or even high ropes where there's a task and a group is given that task and that they all have to play their part.

Um, and I think it's almost like a microcosm for how a community works. Um, you know, everybody matters and everybody is important in that. And it's really awesome to kind of like solidify that, that kind of thinking, um, and, uh, you know, risk mitigated environment. Well, I think another way that, you know, nature can help build that sense of community is maybe when folks come together to work on a project that's in nature.

So especially in like cities where there maybe isn't a lot of green space and folks coming together to make like an urban garden or something of that. So that there's green space, but it's also functional because it produces food. Uh, so it builds community in all kinds of ways. I think, uh, Oh, sorry, Sarah.

I think that's a great point, Courtney. And actually that's something that we see a lot too is, you know, engaging with nature in that purposeful or spiritual way sometimes by serving in a way that like restores nature. Um, that can build community as you're kind of doing a, working towards a shared goal together.

And you're also, um, you're, you can be engaging in that purpose, this whole activity where you feel like you're really adding to the world in a bigger way, whether that's just, yeah. Picking up trash along, um, a lot along a park or actually going in and. Refurbing a trail or something like that. So that's a great point.

I have refurbed to trail. When I went my previous position, I went on a few alternative break trips and two of them were very nature oriented. And one, we walked a six-mile trail and like knee deep bud footing in a mile markers for a trail. It was a great, really hard work. So good job. That's your, your physical wellbeing too, right?

It really was. Um, Holy smokes. Uh, and so when are you going to talk about like finding it social wellness? I think there's always that aspect of like you can garden and create your own food. And that is definitely now you don't have to buy like fresh fruits and vegetables from the grocery store, which can be an extra expense, but can y'all think of any other ways that nature can enhance our financial wellness?

I mean, all you need to do is be able to get to the spot. So if you've got to ask a friend for a ride, or if you've got to ride your bike or even walk somewhere, I mean, a state parks are free to go to. So it's, um, it's definitely a way to be able to enjoy life without really having to spend any money at all.

Yeah, that's, that's very true. I think, um, our natural resources, our parks and our trails and. Our, um, like our urban, but outdoor areas. These are all, um, usually resources that are free. And so when we talk about like, if you need to go on a cheap date or you need, you need to create some clothes, Close friendships, but you're like, I don't have, I don't have the funding to, you know, I'm a college student.

I don't have money to go to the escape room or I don't have money to, you know, go to a dinner and a movie every weekend. I need something else to do well, organizing like Frisbee golf with your, with your friend group that's free or, um, walking, um, and playing soccer outside or going to the, the rail chair or the core Arboretum.

And. Having some like deep discussions, all of that is free. And so that's, um, it's, it's helping your wellbeing in so many ways, but it's, it's also free. Um, except for, you know, like Jake said the transportation to get there. And I think that's another, another plug for some of the resources that students and faculty have, um, here at WVU, where were we?

Can rent really inexpensive gear to get outside through Adventure West Virginia, whether it's, you know, renting skis over the winter and you get a really hefty discount to be able to do that in a more financially practical way, or being able to rent kayaks or paddle boards or backpacks, that's all much more inexpensive and it makes it more accessible.

Yeah. And actually going back to your previous point about cheap dates, what's also cool. Is that when you do like physical activities, like going for a hike or just taking a walk, your body produces more of that bonding hormone. So you actually feel closer to that partner. So hint, um, it worked, it worked for my marriage.

There you go. I have friends who went skydiving on their first date. Now they're married, but Oh my goodness. Yes, all that oxytocin. Anyway. Um, so what about like general and emotional? I think, um, Sarah, you mentioned earlier that being outside can just increase your mood and exposure to the sun, but is there anything else you want to add for those benefits?

Yeah, absolutely. So, um, There's numerous studies that have been done, where researchers have found that being outdoors for, um, even short periods of time, even in like urban parks can help to reduce our anxiety. You know, like I said, it can help to reduce your heart rate, your respiratory rate. Those are symptoms that typically get elevated with high anxiety, so it can help you feel more grounded.

It also can help us have better focus and concentration when we're detaching from our screens and in engaging with the outdoor world. Um, Studies have found that, uh, it can elevate mood and help and contribute to, um, like we've talked about feeling like you're more connected to purpose and people, um, and studies have also found that it can be related.

To, um, decrease stress and increase energy. So this isn't true for everyone all the time. And there are caveats like how long you're out matters and how stressful the experience matters. But there are a lot of mental health benefits that we've found. From being outdoors and being able to really engage with nature in a positive way.

Yeah, no, I definitely agree with what Sarah just said. Um, I believe that, you know, like she mentioned, everybody has their own different threshold. Like maybe it's too hot for some people, maybe it's too cold, but I think if they can get into that sweet spot, I really challenge anybody. I think it's like a quote to, to be angry when they're walking in the woods.

Um, so I think, I think the benefits are, are amazing, honestly. All right. So now let's finish up talking about social support and so are the social aspect of wellness. And let's talk about social support and connection, particularly with the Adventure West Virginia, because both of you have like really in-depth experience with that program.

So maybe let's talk about some of the programs that are offered through Adventure that you think would help students foster that support socially or anything like that. Yeah, that's great. Courtney. I'm glad you're asking about that because you know, there's, there's some programs that we've had that would be great for students pre pandemic, you know, that we, we run every year that students should really check out and get involved with these have changed some and may not be happening for, for a while until things get safe and healthy again.

But things like, um, there are typically. Opportunities to sign up for weekend trips where students can go explore somewhere in West Virginia for the weekend. We have a ski shuttle during the winter where students can, uh, on a Wednesday or Thursday night, get driven to wisp and go skiing for a really discounted rate.

Um, there's, uh, rock climbing and, um, Winter break trips and spring break trips and trips were sophomores and trips for freshmen. And these are all really opportunities. You know, they're, they're about being outdoors, but they're really about connecting with each other and fostering close relationships that, um, are, are centered around shared experiences and growth.

And so that's. That's something that I would really encourage everyone to connect with. But, um, we've also done some things that maybe Jay can talk about soon here, too, where we've, we've partnered with Adventure and the Carruth Center. Do you really focus, particularly on our wellbeing, our social connection and many dimensions of this wellness, really what you're talking about, and those are some of the activities that we will continue to be able to do outside.

Um, During the pandemic also, you know, being able to meet in small groups and, um, you know, debrief how people are doing with all of these wild changes, be able to learn coping skills and grounding skills, using nature to, to deal with all of the stress that we're all experiencing right now. Um, We'll be doing crafts outside and, uh, we'll be learning more about different resources that people can engage with on their own, where it's still safe to be, um, with other people, but outside where the there's less risk for infection.

Um, and so I think like we'll be doing a lot more of this and, and, uh, that will assume not Adventures website, so I'd encourage people to check it out there, but maybe Jake, you could talk a little bit more about. What's some of the, the experiences that you've had with this before from a staff or student perspective.

Um, so I know that, uh, last summer working up at the OEC, we had a lot of in person activities running like first year trips, um, and, and all sorts of different things. But now this year, we've kind of shifted away from that and we've converted to zoom. A lot of times. So I know that Sarah was running some Carruth Center meetings that they weren't therapeutic.

Uh, but they were just kinda like getting to talk to people and catch up. And I really enjoyed, uh, being a part of that with her. And going into the future, uh, Adventure is going to be offering walking tours along the rail trail. We're going to be doing, um, bicycling. We'll be doing, um, Flatwater kayaking.

And I mean, I think going forward that will allow us to continue to have that like Mountaineer community that we kind of had to take a step away from due to, through due to the global pandemic. Right. All right. Well, that actually covers our wellbeing snapshot too, because we want to talk about the programs that we plan on doing.

Cause it's definitely going to look different this fall, especially with some of the current developments that have happened, then I'm sure a week from now when this episode is actually released, um, though, even more changes. So we are adapting in as many ways as possible to still provide those. Those connections and that, that sense of community here.

So that's, I think that's good and important to important to hear. Yeah. If I, if I could speak on that real quick, Courtney, you know, that's, you just talked about adapting the changes and that's something that often you have to do when you go outside. Sometimes, sometimes it's raining and you didn't expect that it would, or it's colder than, than you anticipated or it's warmer than you anticipated.

So you're. One of the benefits of really spending time outside is learning that adaptability and learning how to kind of adjust in creative ways to difficult circumstances. And that's something that we're all really needing to work on right now. So I think that's another, one of the benefits of really spending considerable time outside is kind of like developing those resilience skills and that adaptability.

For sure, for sure. Oh no, it just, it made me think of, uh, Sarah had run her pilot program last fall for a career in an outdoor education center initiative. And I remember we were, we were doing this low road and we were, I had kind of framed it as an okay, so you put this object down, this is something that you want to leave behind you, and then you pick something up that you want to take with you.

And then I allowed the participants to split into small groups and they all right. We'll discuss with your partner, what you would like to leave behind them. And a girl Rose her hand and said, do you have to share? I said, no, no, you can just listen. And it turned out that the purpose or that she was paired up with had the same exact issue as her.

Um, and I think that it just kind of speaks to like reaching out there, um, because you never really know who might be going through the same thing or, or struggle. Um, and I really hope that we're able to facilitate more things like that going forward. Oh yeah, for sure. That's awesome. Thank you for sharing that story.

Uh, and again, thank you both for taking the time out of your day to talk with us for. You know this 20 or so minutes. I really appreciate it. We'll probably have you both back on at some point, because I want to see more guests all the time. So I thank you all to her avid listeners. We really appreciate it.

And. We may not release an episode next week because I don't have one lined up our guests lined up. Um, but we'll see, maybe I'll record one by myself. Anyway. Thank you all. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we'll catch you next time on Wellbeing Wednesdays.