TYS stories

Outdoors as Therapy

Kayla Gush
Intern, Tidewater Youth Services
Resident of Virginia Beach

15 April, 2021

Throughout my teen years, there were always stressors in my life as there are in most ‘normal’ teens’ lives. My biggest outlet to better my mental, emotional, and physical being was to get some fresh air as the flowers started blooming, and the temperature started to rise! I would say the weather has a huge impact on everyone’s mental health. Sunshine makes us smile, right? 

Up to 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system are struggling with some type of mental health issue. There is a high prevalence of anxiety and depression when dealing with youth in the juvenile justice system. 

When working with these populations, I have observed a lower level of agitation and stress coming from them when they are engaging in outdoor activities. Even if it is something as simple as going for a walk or playing catch with a staff member. Being outside, playing sports, or just enjoying the fresh air creates opportunities for the youth to cope with their mental health in a positive way and to feel free.

Exercise releases cortisol, which reduces stress, and endorphins, our bodies’ natural feel-good chemicals.

Sunshine makes us smile, right?

Most teens are not directly taught coping strategies or to engage in those ‘feel good’ activities when they are feeling anxiety, stress, or depression. Therefore they end up coping in unhealthy ways. Here at Tidewater Youth Services, we create diverse, outdoor activities to create a release of negative energy. 

Our staff works hard to give the residents fresh air when needed. We realize that youth may need a mental health break and going outside provides a calming environment. There are times when our youth are upset and need to talk with a staff member. Routinely, the staff will take the youth for a walk or sit outside to “cool off” and vent. 

Spring Break! 

Each year, the Foundation schedules events for Spring Break within our group home facilities to keep the kids safe, busy and on the right track. This year, we focused our activities around the relationship between mental health and being outside or exercising. We really worked to make some fun activities for them to do outside during their free time. 

Some of the Spring Break activities our youth completed include:

  • Nature hike at a state park to hunt for fossils along the James River
  • Basketball related games
  • Tie dye t-shirts
  • Completed an art activity outside
  • Water balloon toss
  • An outdoor obstacle course
  • Outdoor exercises

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Tidewater Youth Services Foundation
Nurturing Potential.  Creating Opportunities. Instilling Hope.