By: ENO Brand Ambassador Dan Regan
The modern reality is that kids are going farther away for continuing their lives after high school than their parents’ generation did. Whether it is the 45-minute drive to the state university or taking the dream job on the opposite coast, any distance can be enough to change many dynamics. However, just because the frequency or duration of time spent with loved ones isn’t the same doesn’t mean the bond has to deteriorate.
Growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, my dad and I were always close. I started Scouting in the first grade and he was involved every step of the way, even after I left home for college. There is something about camping every month and going to work with each other that creates a unique bond between father and son. The bond that my father and I have is special, but not unique. Nearly everyone can stop right now and think about a family member or best-friend that they wish they had more time to spend with. So here is my advice to making sure that bond stays strong, create tradition.
Moving four hours away put an end to camping every month, but it didn’t take away our summer. Three years ago my father and I started a family tradition where I pick the destination and he picks the route; then for about four or five days we hit the trail and go backpacking. Spending just that little bit of time on the trail lets us get back to our roots and keep the bond strong. Nature has its way of bringing folks closer together and create lasting memories. We have hiked through downpours that turn the trails into mini-rivers, walked through a former US Army practice artillery range, and followed black bears as they led us up the path. The people we have met along the way and the adventures that we embarked on have made for some great stories upon our return home.
Researchers across multiple fields have studied the effects of spending anywhere from 90 minutes in nature to individuals who thru-hike for several months and have started to reveal some interesting trends. A study by researchers at Stanford found that spending just as little as 90 minutes in nature altered the blood flow in the brain. Follow-up surveys gathered from the participants found that expression levels of anxiety and depression were significantly decreased after the time spent in the outdoors. Another study was conducted on section hikers at different times along their trip. The tests that were given to the backpackers at 4 days into their journey and at day zero. The group that had been on the trail 4 days tested 50% higher in terms of creativity than those at day 0. Multiple studies are currently discovering more about how time spent in nature alters the chemistry of the brain and causes psychological changes.
What researchers and doctors can say for certain is that ‘ecotherapy’ is effective. Ecotherapy is the practice of removing high-stress aspects such as work and mobile communication from an environment and spending some amount of time in a nature-based environment like a park or zoo. Not only is ecotherapy effective at reducing levels of anxiety, depression, and stress; but it creates a positive experience for companions to draw on. Aside from having a shared experience to remember and relate to, individuals who accompany each other in the outdoors are less likely to have distractions like mobile devices on them. This means that more high-substance conversations and story-telling are likely to occur and build upon the positive experience of the event.
Hiking with black bears or having to keep your eyes peeled for active artillery is not the method everyone should use to keep that bond alive. Go and start your own traditions and be sure to never let anything make you cancel. It could be as simple as going back to the campground you and your family went to when you were a kid or planning the road trip that your friends have dreamed of since high school. There are plenty of guide books and travel planners in print and on the web to help you start your own trip. Every summer the backpacking trip with my pops is the highlight of my few month hiatus from education. Distance shouldn’t be the end to your relationships. Whatever you do and wherever you go, don’t forget to enjoy your company and yourself.