Although not normally associated, fly fishing and mental health can be directly correlated. Fly fishing can significantly improve one’s mental health in many ways and has proven to be very therapeutic. From the average Joe dealing with depression and anxiety, to the combat war veteran dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, fly fishing can be a very effective tool in the healing process.
Fly fishing is more than just a hobby or sport. For some, it is a means of escape and process of recovery. Life can be chaotic and overwhelming, so it is easy to lose yourself among the stress. There are many remedies for this stress management such as exercise, mediation, and time off from work. Fortunately, fly fishing involves all three of these tasks and more. Although not a traditional means of aiding in the maintenance of one’s mental health, fly fishing should not be overlooked nor underappreciated. In fact, being outdoors, fly fishing or not, has holistic effects on the human body. The fresh air, vitamin D from natural sunlight, and relaxing sounds of nature can positively improve anyone’s mood.
Recognizing the Signs of Excess Stress
Stress is an unfortunate part of the everyday life of a human being. We were designed to handle stress. The sympathetic and non-sympathetic nervous systems are what help us handle stress.
That being said, just because we are meant for stress does not mean there are times it is in excess or we should not maintain it. The first step in this process is recognizing when you are in stress overload.
Excess stress can take many forms. Some are more obvious than others. Fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, loss of interests, these are all tell-tale signs that you should make a change in your lifestyle or do something to help manage your stress.
These acute minor symptoms can lead to major health issues. Not to mention, these health issues can begin to affect your day to day life. Relationships, work performance, and even sex drive can all be affected by excess stress.
Be At Peace With Your Fly Rod – Improve Your Mental Health & Have Fun At The Same Time
Again, being stressed is a normal experience, just avoid letting it compound and grow in excess. When it does grow to the extreme, be sure to recognize it and remedy it. Also, look out for your fellow friends or anglers. You introducing them to fly fishing if they are not already involved with it may help them.
The Science Behind Fly Fishing and Mental Health
So how does fly fishing and mental health even correlate? Endorphins, serotonin, cortisol and even melatonin are all affected by fly fishing.
Endorphins are released anytime we perform physical activity. Whether it is exercise or outdoor activities such as hiking or fishing. Endorphins are chemicals that the body naturally produces to alleviate pain and stress.
Serotonin is a hormone that regulates our mood. This hormone can be released by performing exercise or by getting natural sunlight. Coincidentally fly fishing involves both of these. So naturally, fly fishing can regulate your mood in a positive way, even if the fish are not cooperating.
Cortisol is our body’s defense against stress; it is the primary stress hormone released during our body’s fight-or-flight response to a stressful situation. Research has shown that soldiers suffering from PTSD have extremely high levels of cortisol for example, and have after one weekend of fly fishing, their levels significantly dropped. Cortisol can be reduced through exercise, mediation, and fun activities. Fly fishing checks all of those boxes so naturally can lower cortisol levels.
Melatonin is often associated with aiding in going to sleep. However, if you are feeling depressed, it can cause your melatonin levels to be off. Fly fishing can help level out the melatonin in your system by helping you relax and bring about happiness.
Fly fishing is not often looked at as a natural cure for a body’s chemical imbalance, but research has shown otherwise.
Fly Fishing as Free Therapy Sessions
Therapy is often the go-to decision for assistance with mental health crises. Although a much better option than medication or substance abuse, therapy should not be the sole reliance of improving one’s mental health state.
Exercise, religious practices, meditation, reading a book, going for walks, camping, etc. are all good alternatives to therapy and for the most part are cheaper if not free. Fly fishing is just another example of this alternative therapy.
When an angler is on the water, they escape- they are no longer wearing the hat of whatever their profession is, or concerned with their to-do list around the house. The angler immerses themselves in the connection between the fly rod they hold and the water’s touch on the other end. The fish is just a bonus.
While fly fishing, allow yourself to escape. Focus on the task at hand. Be part of the nature you are surrounded by and appreciate it. I often talk to myself while fishing. I work out my thoughts and feelings and by the time I reel my line up for the day, I feel much better.
Truly savor every false cast, tangled line, fly caught in a tree, or missed fish. For during these times, your mind is healing and each day on the water is more precious than the last.
Project Healing Waters
An excellent example of how fly fishing directly impacts the mental health of others is the non-profit organization Project Healing Waters. The people who run this organization are saints and can attest through testimony after testimony the results of taking military veterans fly fishing.
Project Healing Waters has 230 programs through 48 of the 50 States and their sole purpose is to take local veterans in and teach them how to tie flies, cast a fly rod, and ultimately take them on fly fishing excursions. These veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or from physical disabilities as a direct result from war.
If you are interested in donating, volunteering, or have a veteran friend who may benefit from linking up with this organization, a quick Google search will get you in contact with your area’s program.
The organization is non-profit so it relies on donations and volunteers.
Go Fly Fishing For Fun But Return With Benefits
Fly fishing can be more than just a sport or hobby; for some it is a life-saving form of therapy. Fly fishing has proven it can regulate the hormones and chemicals within our bodies that can have negative and positive impacts on our mental health.
Whether you are just learning to cast, or you have been fly fishing for years, a weekend warrior or a seasoned guide, this pastime has more benefits than just bragging rights. The next time you are on the water, stop before you cast and just take in nature. Immerse yourself in escaping and allow your body to reset.
Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or just everyday worry can all be eased through time on the water. Whether it is to this extreme or not, it is simply just a swell way to spend time.
The most important part though is to remember to have fun. At the end of the day, you are trying to fool an animal with a brain the size of a grape or smaller to eat a hook with a feather attached to it.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather be outside breathing the fresh air and casting a fly than sitting in some doctors’ office for $150 an hour lol. Being outside and walking to your favorite trough stream or hooking up the boat and fishing on a lake or a inlet or bay packed with bone fish can do wonders not only physically, but mentally as well. It can help your body regulate your melatonin levels in your brain which will help you avoid feeling tired and or depressed. The great thing is you can fly fish alone which will give you time to just think, reflect and enjoy nature. Or maybe you just want to get out and fish with a friend or loved one. Either way, fishing does wonders not only for the brain, but the soul!