Every day, across the country, people sit inside therapists’ offices working hard to find relief from suffering of all kinds: abuses from childhood which won’t let go; losses and grief; vague, yet deeply painful, sadness, anger, loneliness. From within those walls, therapists work equally hard to understand the nature of their clients’ suffering and discern which approaches and techniques might best help ease the suffering and, ultimately, bring lasting relief.
Increasingly, therapists are looking beyond the confines of concrete and drywall and considering how the natural world might give rise to healing. Indeed, for many thousands of years, people have turned to nature in times of suffering, discomfort, and search for insight.
Have you ever found peacefulness by being near water?
Comfort during a walk through the woods?
Joy at the sight of young animals playing?
Inspiration by watching a sunrise?
A sense of wonder and connection by watching the moon and stars?
Being in Nature Promotes a Healthy Mind and Body
It is hard to describe exactly how nature helps heal, comfort, and nurture our minds; yet, intuitively, undeniably, it happens. A growing body of scientific studies tell us that nature helps: decrease loneliness, depression, and anxiety; regulate the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems; and decrease salivary cortisol levels (which relate to decreased stress). Research has also found being in nature gifts us with better moods, better thinking, and a more positive outlook.
As for physical health, study after study reveals the wide variety of ways nature helps keep our physical bodies healthy. Lowered blood pressure, blood glucose, and pulse rates; increased immune functions; quicker post-surgery recovery are among the many documented health benefits of time spent in nature. One research project even found spending time in nature may have a possible preventative effect on the development of cancer.
But it’s More than That, Too
There are certain intangible forces which are intuitively healing. These forces are hard to define, hard to explain, and hard for research to quantify. Yet, they have been an important part of healing for centuries. Storytelling, written word, art, music, and dance are but a few examples of these forces. Connecting with nature is also one of these forces.
We’ve been connected to nature for a very long time.
The past several decades have seen a monumental shift in people’s connection with nature. Before television, computers, air conditioning, and electricity made living and working inside more comfortable, people naturally spent more time outside – walking, playing, socializing, working. It’s only been fairly recently that we have unintentionally and subtly moved away from the natural world. We have buffered ourselves from the natural rhythms to which we have been adapted for centuries – day and night, moon phases, day length changes, and seasons. Increasingly, therapists and others believe this disconnect from nature we all experience to some extent may be a factor in the seemingly continual rises in stress, depression, and anxiety rates.
It can be as simple as spending time sitting outside on your porch or opening the window for a few hours each day. Or going on a walk, having a picnic at the park, hanging up a hummingbird feeder, watching the clouds with your child or grandchild, splashing in a creek, or spending time with your dog.
Whatever or however you choose to connect with nature, here are a few ideas to try:
- Take a few minutes to engage all your senses. Notice what you see, hear, feel, smell, and even taste.
- If you are struggling with something specific, find something in nature that connects to that struggle. For instance, if you are needing strength, you might sit underneath a big, strong tree for a while. If you are grieving, you might spend time next to a flowing river or creek.
- Recall any childhood memories of times spent in nature or with a special animal. Let those memories guide your time with nature.
- Attend a class, workshop, or guided hike to learn more about the natural world around you. Your local Agricultural Extension agent or State Natural Resource Agency (such as Texas Parks & Wildlife Department in Texas) are good places to start.
- Spend a few minutes thinking about or noticing the beauty and wonderful intricacy of the natural world around you. For instance, did you know that many hummingbirds build their nests with spider webs? Or that every species of firefly has its own unique light-flashing pattern? Or that pallid bats find their prey – scorpions, centipedes, and other arthropods and insects – by using their huge ears to listen for their footsteps on the ground?
Nature is waiting.