The ongoing pandemic requires all of us to continue to isolate at home and to social distance when outside. But these restrictions don’t mean we have to avoid being in nature. And that’s a good thing since there are many reasons to stay connected with the natural world — especially during this difficult time.
We know intuitively that even short periods in natural surroundings are beneficial: afterwards we feel refreshed and spiritually rejuvenated. But there’s ample scientific evidence that nature is good for our mental and physical well-being. Studies increasingly show that people’s lives are improved when they spend more time outdoors, according to Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. Among the positive effects that have been identified:
- The natural world lifts mood. Spending time in places of natural beauty correlates with subjective feelings of happiness.
- Nature soothes. Exposure to nature reduces anger, fear, anxiety and stress. It can also help people cope with pain.
- Nature heals. Being in nature reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It also boosts immunity by increasing white blood cells. Plus your body produces more Vitamin D in the sunshine.
- Nature restores focus. Being in nature increases the ability to pay attention and can even help alleviate ADHD in children.
- Nature helps eyesight. Research shows that children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to become nearsighted.
- Walking in nature helps aging. One study found that spending time in nature improves sleep and relieves common body aches in older people.
- Experiencing nature improves creativity. Spending more time in nature and less time with electronic devices has been found to increase our problem-solving skills and improve creative abilities.
- Nature connects us. Studies indicate that being in natural environments promotes connections between people and with the larger world.
So the benefits of connecting with nature are numerous and compelling. And you don’t have to travel to exotic places to get a dose of the natural world. It’s as close as the nearest city park or even your backyard garden. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Make a commitment to be in nature. Consider it a regular priority like exercising or taking vitamins.
- Pay attention. Wherever you are — mountaintop or neighborhood green belt — focus on what’s around you. Tune into your surroundings using all your senses. Experience the sights, sounds, and smells of nearby plants and animals.
- Establish a spiritual connection. Sit and take a moment to breathe deeply and experience the silence that pervades the scene.
- Maintain a nature journal. Record your experiences and feelings you’ve had outdoors. Describe what you’ve seen and how it changes over time.
- Enjoy the outdoors with a partner. Whether it’s a day hike in the mountains or just a quick stroll in the park, it’s better with a friend or loved one. (But maintain social distance!)
- Seek out watery places where available. Spending time near creeks, rivers, lakes or oceans has a similar effect to that of green spaces.
- Try a new outdoor activity. Get out of your comfort zone by learning a new skill. Maybe it’s biking, skiing, kayaking, sailing, etc. Or try out a new location.
- Show gratitude. Be thankful for the plants, animals and natural scenery you’re blessed with.
No matter where you live, there’s a natural spot to experience and enjoy. So put down the cell phone, Take a break from social media. And transport yourself to a slower, more vivid way of being.