Halzel: Friendship strengthened by spending time outdoors
It was dark and cold when our phone alarm went off at 4 am. We packed up the tent and started hiking, using the light from our headlamps to guide the path.
The climb was tough, but the view and the sense of accomplishment that awaited us at the summit made it worth it. And after the quick walk down, we celebrated with a late lunch at the nearby brewery.
The hike and everything that went into it — the training, the planning, the execution, etc. — offered personal benefits, but it was also a chance for me to bond with my friend Anna, my hiking partner, and was one of many outdoor activities that we did together that ultimately strengthened our friendship and connection.
My strongest friendships all have a history of outdoor interaction — whether that is sharing a picnic on the lawn at a summer concert, tossing a Frisbee at the park, skiing the back bowls at Vail on a powder day, meandering down the upper Colorado River in a raft, or just taking a lunchtime walk. On Friday, the International Day of Friendship, let’s examine what it is about doing things outdoors that strengthens the bond between friends.
For one thing, people feel good when they spend time outdoors, a fact supported by research. Outdoor time is associated with lower stress and blood pressure, and one recent study showed that regularly spending just 20 minutes in a park increases happiness and well-being.
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Experiences in nature correlate with reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as irritability, insomnia and headaches. Cortisol (stress hormone) levels are reduced and endorphins are produced. Spending time with friends has also been shown to reap a multitude of mental health benefits. Hmm, maybe the combination of spending time outdoors with friends is the key to strong mental health.
Then there is the trust and vulnerability required when participating in outdoor activities that push you out of your comfort zone. In rock climbing, for example, you are literally putting your life in the hands of the person belaying you, a bonding experience if there ever was one. And even when participating in less extreme activities, like hiking, there still exists an unspoken rule that you and your buddy are in it together. No one is abandoning the other if there is a sprained ankle, for example.
Here in Eagle County, we are fortunate to have an infinite list of available outdoor activities. The next time you are heading out, grab a friend! On this International Day of Friendship, let’s celebrate the power of the outdoors in forging friendships.
Rachel Halzel is the youth advocacy manager for Bright Future Foundation. Buddy Mentors matches adult volunteers with local youth. To learn more, visit MYBrightFuture.org/buddy-mentors/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.