Sleeping Under the Stars Is Restorative
When living in Los Angeles it is almost impossible not to have a busy life. We deal with so many stressors that revolve around finances, jobs, relationships, traffic, and that’s not even mentioning the added stress COVID has caused this past year. Finding useful self-care strategies plays a vital role in developing coping skills and improving mental health.
My favorite way to take care of myself and to turn off the noise that comes with a busy LA life is to go camping. Being outside in nature, away from the electronics and traffic and all the other stressors is a great way to clear your mind. It’s not just my opinion, science backs it up! There have been many studies that have identified various benefits of being in nature.1 Being in nature is associated with improved mood, focus, and lowering of overall stress.2 In addition, sleeping outside has shown to regulate melatonin levels which are also associated with mood and stress. Lastly, the fresh air and sunlight are a great way to recharge your batteries.
How to Get Started
So, you want to go camping, but don’t know where to start? Maybe you have heard some myths about camping, for example, that it is too expensive, or that you have to be some experienced camper to go. The good news is that camping can be easy and inexpensive to plan. Yes, there are an endless supply of pricey camping gear and although they can be useful, they are not necessary. Most of what you need to go camping you can find on your own.
To that end, please see the list below.
- Tent – Ask a friend if you can borrow a tent. You can also purchase a tent at a local sporting store or online for as low as $20.
- Sleeping bag – Sleeping bags are made to be compact and warm. As a substitute you can bring blankets from your home. Bring enough to stay warm.
- Sleeping pad – Sleeping pads are meant to give you something soft to sleep on and to keep you warm. You can use a yoga mat or bring an extra blanket and fold it under you.
- Lighting – You should have some kind of lighting. Headlamps and lanterns can be great, but a regular old flashlight will do. Point your flashlight toward a clear water bottle for a makeshift lantern.
- Knife – A pocketknife or swiss army knife is a useful tool at the campsite. If you don’t have one, that’s fine. A small pairing knife can make an okay substitute. Just make sure to cover the blade.
Cooking & Eating Essentials
- Water – We drink an average of 3-4 liters a day. Many campsites will have water. Make sure yours does, but it’s always a good idea to come prepared with your own water as well.
- Food – This doesn’t have to be complicated. You can take canned foods and dry foods if you don’t want to deal with a cooler or stove. Bring some seasonings like salt and pepper.
- Cookware – Take what you need. For example, if you are going to cook eggs you will need a portable stove and propane tank, and if you are brining canned food, you will need a can opener.
- Plates, Cups, Utensils – Try not to bring anything glass or disposable.
- Trash bags
Hygiene & Medical Essentials
- First aid kit – Have some band aids, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointments.
- Insect repellent
- Toilet paper – Campgrounds have some, but they run out.
Where to Go
The Los Angeles area is home to many beautiful campgrounds that are less than an hour away. If you like the mountains, Angeles National Forest is a great campsite for first timers. If you don’t want to drive up the mountain, Malibu Creek State Park is a great spot where you can go for a swim.
You can also use Recreation.gov to find campsites and availabilities. Some sites are first come first serve; others are reservation only, so do your research to make sure your trip goes smoothly.
Some Final Tips
- Plan to get to your campground when there is daylight to make setting up easy.
- Write down your directions. Most campsites don’t have service.
- Set up should be your first activity.
- Do not keep any food in your tent.
- Keep your kitchen area away from your sleeping area.
- Do not build a fire unless your site has a designated fire pit and you obtain a fire permit. You can obtain a fire permit online, but fires are only allowed at certain times of the year.
To conclude, these tips and suggestions aim to help people that are considering a way to reconnect with nature for their mental health and are looking for some initial direction. The goal is that you benefit from a natural stress-relieving and uplifting experience next time you have two days at your disposal and feel the need to recharge your mental batteries.
1 Pearson, D. G., & Craig, T. (2014). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01178
2 Harvard Health Publishing. (2021). Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature.https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature