How nature heals trauma

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Being in open spaces and nature has allowed Kate Hoit to “walk off the war”

By Guest writer, Kate Hoit, California State Director for Vet Voice Foundation

In 2005, I returned home from a yearlong deployment to Iraq. And no one ever tells you that coming home is one of the hardest parts of serving.

Reintegration back into civilian life — no matter what your job was overseas or stateside — can take a toll on service members both mentally and physically. But many service members and veterans have realized the benefits of the outdoors to help ease that transition.

Our public lands play a pivotal role in the emotional and spiritual recovery for some veterans. We’ve been a nation at war for over 19 years and veterans have experienced a plethora of trauma — from post-traumatic stress, sexual trauma, loss of limbs, traumatic brain injuries, and more. The ability to access our national parks, forests, wilderness areas, memorials, and battlefields has helped to ease the transition back to civilian life for many veterans.

According to a study by the Sierra Club, researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of Michigan, research suggests a link between outdoor activities and long-term psychological well-being. The study followed over 70 veterans as they took part in a dozen programs that put an emphasis on experience. Over a week period, veterans had the opportunity to go fly-fishing, kayaking, backpacking, and more. By the end of the study over 50 veterans reported improvement in psychological well-being, increase in social functioning, and an enhanced outlook on life.

My introduction to the outdoors began when I shipped off to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for boot camp. My family wasn’t big on camping or hiking. We didn’t take vacations to our national parks or monuments. Instead, at the age of 18, I went camping for the first time — except it was in the middle of winter and I dug a fox hole into the frozen ground. My hikes were called “ruck marches” and carried an M16. My appreciation for the outdoors was almost nonexistent. It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned how vital they were to our survival — both mentally and physically.

I’ve spent time in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, California’s desert lands and redwood forests, and parks throughout the country. And I’ve grown to appreciate our natural wonders. I went from looking up at the night sky in Balad, Iraq to stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park. I traded in walking the desert in body armor and an M16 for hiking the Muir Wood National Monument with my young daughter.

The time outdoors has helped me reconnect with myself, my loved ones, and my community. Being in our open spaces and surrounded by nature, has allowed me to “walk off the war.”

Our public lands provide opportunities for recreation and recovery from the trauma and stresses of war and reintegration. These lands have helped us recover one step at a time. We owe a debt of gratitude to our public lands and those who work to defend them.

Kate Hoit is the California State Director for Vet Voice Foundation. She served in the U.S. Army Reserves for eight years and deployed to Iraq as a photojournalist. Kate currently lives in Northern California with her husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs.

GET OUTDOORS: SOME TIPS DURING THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY

Explore public lands where there’s lots of wide open space.

Maintain social distancing to other visitors and federal employees.

Bring your own hand sanitizer for use in buildings or restrooms.

Check websites for the latest opening hours.