nature and stress

What are Primitive Living Skills?


As the April 30th deadline for the Spring Create & Cope Camp approaches, I thought it might be helpful to not only provide a sneak peak at the types of things your teen will be doing but share why I feel it is so important to overall health and well being.  So let's start with Primitive Living Skills and why learning them are beneficial.

WHAT ARE PRIMITIVE LIVING SKILLS?  The word primitive means different things to different people.  You may think simple, unsophisticated, basic, ancient, or out-dated.  However, primitive living skills are truly the core survival skills which have allowed the human race to survive and even thrive in very challenging situations.  The ability to make fire, create shelter, and find water and food sources is everything.  Learning these skills were not optional and still are the most important skills to have in many cultures.  Our "modern" culture has disconnected us from nature over time.  Many of us have no idea how we would survive if we were lost or tragedy struck.  

WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?  I have been fortunate enough to not only participate in Coyote Trails School of Nature Fox Trails but also to teach creative arts at two of their camps.  What I experienced as a student was profound especially in terms of my connection to nature and the confidence I gained around survival skills.  I witnessed many children and adults going from nervous and afraid of bugs and being in nature, to confident and connected to themselves and the earth.  I saw my own children grow in confidence and become less scared to be alone in the woods, especially at night!  It is my sincere belief that our disconnection to nature and lack of knowledge and skills create a great deal of anxiety.  When we begin to learn how to get back to the basics, we feel comforted in our ability to survive should our cozy, modern lives ever be disrupted.  In fact, these skills led me to feel confident enough to sleep outdoors, alone with nothing but water and a mosquito net for 3 days (2 nights)!!  It was NOT easy or comfortable, and there may have been a full body rash from chigger bites, but I survived and I learned something about my resilience and courage I would never have learned otherwise.  I am a far less fearful and anxious person because of these experiences and I feel strongly that I am not alone in this transformation.

A TASTE OF CONFIDENCE:  My goal in offering a seasonal one day camp that includes exposure to primitive living skills and nature awareness is to provide teens with a way to stay connected to nature and to learn how very powerful they really are.  By teaching core survival skills, teens gain a deep sense of comfort knowing that they can provide for their basic needs if ever faced with a survival situation.  I believe this confidence not only quells anxiety but encourages a curiosity and respect for nature that we so desperately need today.   


Join us MAY 19th in the Cuyahoga National Valley Park from 9-7pm for a day of connection and creativity!  REGISTER BEFORE APRIL 30th!!!  

How nature inspires awe and gratitude

Louie Schwartzberg beautifully demonstrates how a connection and deep respect of nature inspires awe and gratitude.  His talk and life's story will remind you how important it is to keep our sense of wonder alive and give our children opportunities to do the same.  Beauty can heal us!

The Nature Effect - How Nature Resets the Brain


I have a confession; the nature world absolutely amazes me!  I can sit and watch a 12 inch by 12 inch square of earth and see a whole universe!  The sunsets. The sunrises. The vivid colors of flowers and butterflies. The way the mist dials back all the colors and the way the rising sun then burns it off, transforming the landscape into a vivid painting.  A rainbow. A flower appearing magically in my yard that I did not plant. The way an owl hoots at what seems like the exact moment I needed to hear it, somehow validating or confirming a thought or a decision I was struggling to make.  It all amazes me.  This connection to nature takes me from my busy monkey brain of to-do lists, worries, criticisms, cynicism, and overactivity to a place of profound presence and stillness.  That is powerful stuff my friends!

Connection to Nature Improves Cognitive Function

Our connection to the natural world is not only meant to be an enjoyable hobby.  It is actually quite critical to our health and well-being. In fact, science can now tell exactly why we feel so much better after we spend time in nature.

David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist with the University of Utah, has studied the effects of nature on performance and brain function. “Motivated by large-scale public health problems such as obesity, depression, and pervasive nearsightedness, all clearly associated with time spent indoors, Strayer and other scientists are looking with renewed interest at how nature affects our brains and bodies.” (Williams, 2016)  His research has shown that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains that regulates complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning, to rest, much like an overused muscle (Williams, 2016).

Time in Nature Reduces Stress

In Japan, several studies clearly demonstrate a reduction of stress by spending time in the woods.  Research led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki at Chiba University, studied 84 participants who were sent to stroll in seven different forests for approximately 15 minutes, while the same number of participants walked around urban cities. The participants who walked in the forest experienced a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate (Park, Tsunetsugu, Kasetani, Kagawa, Miyazaki. 2010).  In fact, in Japan they have a term for this called “Shinrin-yoku”, or taking in the atmosphere of a forest, and have gone as far to rate each forest for the amount of positive energy you can expect by strolling through it.   

Natural Mood Enhancer

In Finland, the government funded research which asked thousands of people to rate their moods and stress levels after visiting both natural and urban areas. Their findings indicate that even short visits to urban nature areas have a positive influence on mood, and lower cortisol levels resulting in a formal recommendation that people get a minimum dose of nature (about five hours per month) to ward off the blues. (Tyrväinen, Ojala, Korpela, Lanki, Tsunetsugu, & Kagawa. 2014)

How can you encourage your teen to spend more time outdoors?

Encourage them to go outside every day!  It doesn't matter if it’s your backyard, a nearby park, a little car ride to a forest nearby, a trip up to the lake or nearby river, or a whole weekend as a family camping in the remote woods.  Just get them outside.  Even just 20 minutes with some direct sunlight everyday improves Vitamin D levels and mood!

Encourage them to join outdoor activities like a rock climbing club, hike trails with friends, mountain bike in the Metro Parks, snowshoeing, downhill or cross country skiing clubs, archery classes, or anything they might be naturally drawn to do. Consider going bigger with programs like Outward Bound or Coyote Trails in the summer!  

Most importantly, model the behavior and invite them along!  The benefits of time spent in nature are just as powerful for adults!  By reconnecting to nature yourself you will not only reap the same rewards you may also foster deeper connections with your teen discovering new adventures and activities together!


Jody R. Pittner, LPC, ATR

P.S  Grab your Free Nature Effect Worksheet to help you talk with your teen about the importance of getting outside!  It even includes local area resources!  Just pop in your email address for instant access.

P.P.S  And don’t forget our Fall Art and Nature Camp for teens ages 12-18 is now enrolling!! The deadline for enrollment is September 30th so hurry!!!  Enroll Now!

P.P.P.S Every Saturday until September 30th you can meet the instructors of the camp!  This week meet Sandy and Cal Reed, our Primitive Living Skills Instructors!  Watch the Video


Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 18.

Williams, L. (2016). This is your brain on nature. National Geographic Magazine.  Article downloaded from:

Tyrväinen, L., Ojala, A., Korpela, K., Lanki, T., Tsunetsugu, Y., & Kagawa, T. (2014). The influence of urban green environments on stress relief measures: A field experiment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38, 1-9.