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Clear Your Mind: Go Outside

I’ve pondered this blog post for awhile, off and on for years. Way before May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Regardless of our status in life, our financial resources, our education level, we have somebody who is probably fighting their own battles with mental health.

Or we may be in the struggle, ourselves. I, for one, toggle between anxiety and depression. Neither, for me, has reached a debilitating level. But both can cloud my thinking, drain me of mental energy, challenge my emotional balance.  Of course, I am not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that six million men are affected by depression every year. More than three million have an anxiety disorder.

Descending Mount of the Holy Cross

Elevating the Conversation

I am fortunate that I had great opportunities to explore nature when I was in 9th Grade at North Junior High School here in Colorado Springs. While it is difficult to say that outdoor experiences then “saved my life,” they certainly gave me a higher quality of life. I came from what was then called “a broken home,” a single-parent household with my mother. The treks into the mountains sustained me in ways that I may not have found if it weren’t for week-long backpacking trips and summitting peaks like Mount of the Holy Cross.

So, this month, as with every May, we want to elevate the conversation about Mental Health Awareness. We want to remove the stigma of talking about mental health. From the outdoor recreation industry, to arts groups, to education and counseling professionals, we are in this together.

In fact, the co-owners of Angler’s Covey, David and Becky Leinweber, created The Morning Hatch Foundation to broaden the reach of the fly shop to support mental health organizations in the Pikes Peak region.  Their daughter, Rachel, is heavily involved in the Foundation in her role as General Manager.  This past March, money raised from the Fly Fishing Film Tour went to support a variety of organizations engaged in this cause in the Pikes Peak Region.

For many years, the folks at Angler’s Covey have recognized the value of outdoor experiences, in general. They have seen first hand how fly fishing, specifically, contributes to our mental health, to our emotional and spiritual well-being.

The Mental Health Benefits of Fly Fishing

Research supports these beliefs. A 2015 study by Harvard Medical School entitled “Fly-Fishing and the Brain,” argues that fly fishing is a natural stress reliever. “Fly fishers are surrounded by nature, unplugged from electronics, and distanced from the so-called real world.” The repetitive nature of fly fishing, too, offers a calming effect.

Fly fishing is also crucial for developing more mindfulness. From placing a dry fly perfectly on that seam to noticing the subtle take, from shifting our gaze from the river to the Osprey above us or the deer crossing upstream, we begin to shift our focus. We are “learning to build a connection through this experience.”

The Mental Health Benefits of Belonging

Sometimes, because we focus on the mental health benefits of being in nature, the conversation comes up short in talking about the community of fly fishing.  Part of the reality of mental health issues is the increased sense of isolation men and women feel. The importance of “belonging.” From my own personal experience, going fishing or having outdoors experiences is absolutely a transformative act. Being part of a community is a vital part, too. Being able to talk with another human being – beyond conversations of “what fly are you tying on” – is important for my mental health.

I need to remember, too, that a community can be with just one other.  I am not alone in any of this. This film, “If I Tell Them,” from Orvis talks about the value of connection. It’s a courageous film just as talking with others is a courageous act.

And one of the most powerful elements of community is giving back. This film from Trout Unlimited highlights the value of mentoring others. 

Resources and Additional Readings

If you or someone you love would benefit from more information about mental illness and available treatment, visit the National Alliance of Mental Illness website at

Mental Health Resources in the Colorado Springs area listed by University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Helping Hands El Paso County Community Resources listed by the Pikes Peak Library District.

Fly Fishing is Medicine for the Mind and Body in Forbes magazine.

How Conservation and Fly Fishing Bolster Mental Health from Sky-Hi News in Grand County, Colorado.

Fishing For Mental Health in Outside Magazine

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