How to Find a Free and Natural Therapist

sunset

As my school semester comes to a close and the holiday seasons quickly approaches, I can’t help but whine to my boyfriend about all the stresses in my life (as if we all don’t have them and I’m the only one to carry the burden).

Although both men and women suffer from stress in their lives, studies show that women are more emotional when it comes to dealing with stress but also that acute and chronic stress may take a greater toll on womens’ physical and mental health.  From weight gain to insomnia to hair loss, women show their symptoms more so than our male counterparts.

What does this have to do with my blog about women and the outdoors?  The outdoors can help.  Even smelling the outdoors may help.

Being outside raises our serotonin levels which help to regulate our moods.  The more serotonin, the more satisfied and happy we feel.  If you have ever heard of what they call a “runner’s high,” this neurotransmitter is responsible.  A study suggested that women who run outside are less likely to feel anxious than those running on a treadmill and are more likely to experience higher levels of post-exercise endorphins, or happy-feel brain chemicals.

Operation patients with an outdoor view are less likely to feel as much pain and experience faster healing than those spending fewer days gazing on the green scene.

Not only does the sight of green help with the healing process, but the smell of grass was found to have a significant calming effect on out-of-control drivers.  If it works for drivers, it can work for women outside.

Activity isn’t always necessary to de-stress.  Women can experience relaxation in the outdoors simply by being outside, breathing deeply and enjoying a beautiful day. bird

In a society where relaxation is considered a nap on the couch still holding a remote or a date with our Netflix account, taking a walk outside, working out in the outdoors or taking a moment to reap the benefits of the aromatic therapy that can be provided by pines and other plants can be just as beneficial.

Studies show that finding your center can help reduce the stress in your life.  The outdoors provides women with a full body experience of a breeze blowing through hair, the smell of grass and dirt at their noses and the sun on their skin.

So before you let yourself freak out about all the tasks you must complete, the papers you must write, that pile of papers to organize on your desk, allow yourself a moment of serenity by taking advantage of what is free and what is natural: the outdoors.

For more information about reducing stress in the outdoors, check out this awesome article on Huffington Post: http://www.athleta.net/2011/02/23/reduce-stress-in-the-great-outdoors/

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Join the Wild Women of Women Outdoors, Inc.

Courtesy of Women Outdoors, Inc.

Courtesy of Women Outdoors, Inc.

I was pondering this the other day as I was sitting in class wishing I was enjoying the crisp sunshine of a beautiful Florida fall day so I decided to take it upon myself to find ways to jump-start a love for the wilderness.  Of course, in order to do that, I stayed inside and “Googled” a solution.

I was happy to come across a good “.org” site which every journalist and blogger knows is a legitimate source.  This website is called womenoutdoors.org. 

The website itself is green-hued and filled with pictures of life-vested, hiking boot-donning, smiling women engaging in my favorite sorts of activities: hiking, kayaking, fishing, you name it.  As I read on, I found that Women Outdoors, Inc. is a “nonprofit, all-volunteer organization” founded in 1980.

Courtesy of Women Outdoors, Inc.

Courtesy of Women Outdoors, Inc.

 

This chapter explores Big Cypress National Preserve, the Intercoastal Waterway (my neck of the woods, ya’ll), the Everglades, and the Florida Keys.  At only $30 a year for dues and $15 for students ages 18 to 25, these opportunities are tough to beat. 

Each year on Memorial Day weekend, the group gets together for their national conference called “The Gathering” in which all region join together to engage in activities ranging from knot-tying to kayaking to Tai Chi.

This year’s Gathering will be held at Sargent Center in southern New Hampshire.

In addition to The Gathering conference each year, Women Outdoors encourages members to attend a service-based trip called “Women Outdoors: Unleashed!”  In the past, this trip has included involvement in Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans in 2007 as well as fund-raising hikes such as Wilderness Heals for the Elizabeth Stone House in 2008.

The group encourages women to speak their ideas for Unleashed! trips for the future.  By emailing SpecialEvents@womenoutdoors.org and providing them with materials on the service or volunteer organization you would like to help benefit, the next trip could be your idea. 

The organization’s mission statement explains their dedication to promotion and education of the outdoors to women and to helping preserve the world’s natural resources.  With over 400 members, Women Outdoors is a great resource for ladies interested in nature. 

 

What to Do When Mother Nature Calls…

toilet

Courtesy of buriedwithchildren.com

You’re camping.  The serenity is just what you needed.  The breeze sways the treetops, the fire is warm and crackling, you’ve got your beloved s’mores complete with Hersey’s chocolate.  The brook is babbling.

The brook is babbling?!  What do you do when nature calls but you’re a lady who is stuck in nature?

Keep calm and fear not.  This post is dedicated to the age-old female problem of using the little girls’ room in the great, wide open space that is the outdoors.  Avoid the ridicule of your masculine counterparts by being prepared and keeping that complaint about lack of proper equipment to yourselves and read on.

Supplies

Unless the idea of wiping with a waxy leaf or some stray pine needle sprays is appealing to you, be sure to provide your own toilet paper.  Chances are, if you are camping with anyone but your mother, the will not think to pack your favorite Charmin despite the cute, woodsy bear mascot on the package.  One roll should cover you but remember, friends are made where extra T.P. is had.

The Scenic Location

Be sure to seek out a secluded spot of wilderness so you won’t be disturbed.  Be aware of sloped ground leading down to the nearest clean water.  No one wants contamination to be an issue… or their sneakers to become victims. 

Last but not least, be sure your pants are where you can see them at all times.  No one wants to re-live their embarrassing preschool “accident” days and find it necessary to use the precautionary “accident pants.” 

The How-to Do…. Do

pine trees

Courtesy of reflectiveimages.com

 

I highly recommend the assisted squatty-potty.  This is done by propping oneself against one of nature’s best oxygen-producing friends, a tree.  Be sure you choose one on level ground and bend your knees as to not disturb the flow. 

According to CampingTrip.com, there are other ways to achieve the worry-free outdoor pee including holding onto a thinner-trunked tree (which can hold your weight!) and leaning back, finding an abandoned log or stump and scooting forward, and the buddy system.  The buddy system isn’t for the shy or the new friend you made because you brought that extra toilet paper.  It involves gripping a friend’s hands and leaning back to simultaneously go at once.

Like I said, not for the faint-hearted or faint-stomached.

The camping experience shouldn’t be one of anxiety or discomfort.  Once you brave the chill of the night air or the solitude that is not your Clorox-scrubbed home bathroom, we ladies can pitch camp with the best of them.

Get Your Hike On This Fall in Florida

With the start of the new fall season, comes crisper weather and bluer skies in Florida.  Although the leaves won’t change as drastically as those northern states (and by northern, we Floridians mean Georgia and above), this time of year is reminiscent of Thanksgiving, pumpkins, cider and, of course, the great outdoors.

apalachicola

Courtesy of holidaytripper.com

One great way to get in touch with a nature-loving, tree-hugging, leaf-crunching side is taking advantage of the hiking trails that vein out throughout the Florida landscape.

Below I describe four different trails from 4 different regions in the state below.  These areas include Northwest, Northeast, Central and South Florida, so your neck of the woods won’t be left un-explored!

Northwest:  Enjoy a serene hike through a swampland on higher ground where one doesn’t need to worry about getting their boots wet and soggy.  Apalachicola National Forest is just a short drive from the capitol in Tallahassee and entrance into this park is free!  The 1.2 mile loop is known as the Camel Lake Loop despite the “Camel Lake” being more a pond.

Sweetwater Preserve

Courtesy of Floridahikes.com

Northeast:  Grab your furry friend and hit the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail in Sweetwater Preserve because this hiking adventure permits dogs!  Just on the northern edge of Payne’s Prairie, a location of historic cattle drives across Florida, this trail is 2 miles long and is also great for novice to intermediate mountain bikers.  Check out this trail map for more info!

The Senator

Courtesy of jonathanturley.org

Central: If you ever find yourself in Seminole County packing a pair of hiking boots, be sure to stop by Big Tree Park.  The area is iconic to a 129 foot cypress tree dubbed fondly as, “The Senator,” which is among one of the oldest in the U.S.  Unfortunately, the natural giant was cut short during a 1925 hurricane but the park has been reopened and another tree planted in memory of this beautiful giant’s stature.  Although this trail is short at .3 miles, it is an emerald example of Central Florida’s natural beauty.

key biscayne

Courtesy of tripadvisor.com

South:  If you are ever down in Key Biscayne with a passion for salty sea air and a brisk hike with a lighthouse view, check out Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.  The 1.5 mile hiking trail offers a unique view of the funky, above-water shack of Stiltsville.  On the way to the Cape Florida Lighthouse and the marina, several nature areas bisect the trail.

As you enjoy hot apple pies with melting vanilla ice cream, football rivalries, warm hues of orange and gold, remember a great way to stay active during this beautiful season is to enjoy some swamp-side, beachside and naturally Florida trails.

The Lion’s Share: Florida’s Lionfish Problem

Courtesy of the FWC, lionfish

Courtesy of the FWC 

A University of Florida researcher sees no end in sight for the eradication of the invasive fish in Florida waters that has been taking a lion’s share of reef habitats.

Tom Frazer, professor and interim director of the school of natural resources and environment, was published in this year’s issue of Reviews in Fisheries Science that shows troublesome lionfish may never be removed from Florida’s coastline reefs but may be kept under control in targeted areas. 

 

Frazer’s research took place on Little Cayman Island with the Central Caribbean Marine Institute based out of Princeton University.  The group studied the threats posed by lionfish to the reefs there such as eating native fishes and potentially reducing biodiversity in the ecosystem, he said. 

 

The spiny, ornate lionfish were identified off the coast of Florida in the 1980s, Frazer said.  Since then, they have skyrocketed in numbers and have now spread to Caribbean and South American waters as well as the Gulf of Mexico. 

 

The creatures were first seen within Bloody Bay Marine Park on Little Cayman Island in 2008, he said.

 

The research done by Frazer’s team off Little Cayman Island was conducted over several months in 2011.  The group measured and dissected the stomachs of lionfish removed off of 11 reef sites by local dive masters, he said. 

 

Voracious and venomous predators, these fish victimize valuable juveniles of native species such as grouper and snapper, he said. 

 

The dissection was done to find whether bigger lionfish have different diets than the smaller, he said.  Frazer’s research shows that smaller lionfish eat shrimp, a much less economically valuable resource. 

 

The reason lionfish are such a threat to the reef ecosystems is they are prolific breeders, Frazer said.  A mature female has the ability to lay tens of thousands of eggs every two to three days.

The growth rate of lionfish is so quick that scientists struggle to study them before maturity. 

 

Adults have no known predators, Frazer said. 

 

The REEF Headquarters director of special projects, Lad Akins, said derbies have been held throughout Florida in an attempt to keep the lionfish population under control.  In these competitions, divers and snorkelers try to catch as many fish as possible in a given time frame using spears or nets.

 

This year’s tournament in Key Largo hosted 11 teams that brought in 461 lionfish, he said.  The largest of the fish was 410 millimeters long.  Prizes were given for the most fish caught, the largest and the smallest.

 

The event was September 8. 

 

Akins added the effort to maintain control of the lionfish population in Florida and Caribbean waters must be sustained over time in order to work. 

 

Similar derbies have been hosted in Palm Beach and Broward counties, according to the REEF Headquarters website. 

 

In a phone interview, Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission public information specialist

Amanda Nalley said the possibility of completely eliminating lionfish is unlikely because they swim to depths that prevent divers from capturing them.  

Because of the increase in lionfish numbers, a temporary change has been made in the regulations for lionfish fishing, she said.  The change allows non-licensed divers to go after the species as long as they use equipment approved by the FWC such as pole spears, Hawaiian slings or other lionfish-specific devices. 

 

The limit for unregulated fish is two fish or 100 pounds per day, whichever is more. 

 

Commercial fish harvesters have no such limit but must report their catch, Nalley added.  These harvesters are also helping the cause by going after lionfish even if the fish are a by-catch caught along with their commercial game.  Lionfish can weigh up to 2.6 pounds. 

 

“I think that in order to make a significant impact on lionfish the effort will have to be sustained for a very long period of time and I’m hoping that, when we identify the locations that are most important, we can allocate the resource that is needed through that effort,” Frazer said.

Dolphins plus at Dolphins Plus

When the South turns back into the North again, the water eventually clears crystalline and brings you to the first welcoming island of the Caribbean, Key Largo, where Dolphin Plus introduces their favorite porpoises for the purpose of making friends.

The agency commits its time to the conservation and protection of marine mammals through educational programs including individual swims for their clients with the dolphins on location. Although the experiences offered come at a cost, Dolphin Plus works hand-in-hand with the Marine Mammal Conservancy which dedicates research to marine mammals internationally.

Sea lions are also present on-location.

The Marine Mammal Center’s website states dolphins are in the classification, cetaceans, which means “toothed whales” that range between five and 60 feet in length. There are 73 known species of porpoises including the bottle-nose dolphin and the sperm whale.

Dolphins use ecolocation to identify objects and other creatures in their environments. The sound travels to the nearest solid objects and bounces back to indicate the placement of the animals’ surroundings.

It is believed that millions of years ago, cetaceans lived on land but evolved fins and tails upon moving into their aquatic environment. Dolphins are closely related to hippopotamuses.

With the education provided by staff at Dolphins Plus, swimmers can make their experiences memorable in interacting with the 11 dolphins on the premises.

Johanna Phillips describes the experience of swimming with dolphins as “amazing.” Her opportunity to visit the dolphins was an undergraduate graduation present from her parents.

“It was so much fun swimming with the dolphins in the “natural swim” where the interactions are up to the dolphins,” the 22-year-old University of Florida veterinary student said. “If they didn’t feel like playing, they didn’t have to.”

According to Phillips, swimming on the side of the body and making eye contact with the marine mammals would allow you to swim next to them. She swam with five dolphins.

“It was one of the most incredible interactions I’ve ever had with animals,” she said.

Dolphin-enthusiasts are encouraged to engage theirselves in Dolphin Plus’s dolphin education programs which range in price and are available to individuals of all ages including the Marine Biologist for a Day and Dolphin Body Language Workshop.

Swimming with dolphin experiences start at $195 for a 45-minute swim but cost more depending on the program chosen.

For more information about dolphin swims at Dolphins Plus, visit their company website at http://www.dolphinsplus.com/.

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Spring Break: 5 Splashing Fun Things to Do!

OWC John

My friend John at Orlando Watersports Complex.

If you’re anything like me, you’re plan for Spring Break is to bust out the bikini and lose that winter pale you’ve been sporting for way too long.  But why limit yourself to beach tanning when there are plenty of other ways to find yourself outdoors while you’re on Spring Break?

1. Rent a KAYAK!  Kayaks are fun, self-propelled boats that are easy to become the captain of.  A double-sided paddle that requires a rotating motion pushes water back while sending you forward on the water.  Exploring a local lake, river, stream, brook or riding the ocean waves can be relaxing, healthy and fun in that springtime sunshine.

2. Try wakeboarding!  When I was in 9th grade, my best friend Bennett was really into wakeboarding.  Wakeboarding is a more modern alternative that finds itself in the water skiing genre of activities.  For the most part, a wakeboard is a snowboard for water.  The catch is you need a motor boat to pull you UNLESS you find yourself in the Orlando area where you can rent a board and ride motorized cables that will pull you around at Orlando Watersports Complex (OWC).

3.  Enjoy a beach cookout!  More often than not, public beaches sport pavilions out front with a charcoal grill assiKey Largo Manateegned to each one.  Stake your claim at one of these pavilions with a bunch of friends, grab a bag of charcoal from your local Wal-mart along with some hotdogs and you’re good to go.   Nothing beats a messy cookout with a public shower!

4. Visit the manatees.  These fat and friendly Florida natives will welcome you with placid, whiskered faces anywhere they can find warm water.  If you’re in my neck of the woods, say hello to the manatees of the Manatee Observation and Education Center in Ft. Pierce!  You’ll even have an opportunity to check out the museum and donate a little monetary love to these beautiful and humorous endangered creatures.

5. Go for a beach side jog!  There’s no need to lose that beach bod before break even ends so get your sneakers on and challenge yourself to run from one beach to another.  You’ll be soaking up the sun and making room for an ice cream cone after!