“Try to get out for a walk today.”
“See if you can get a few minutes of sunshine on your break.”
“Sit by pond for a bit after work.”
These are the sort of gentle suggestions I give my therapy clients as one part of their treatment plan. They are not formal assignments or mandates, but they are not “throw away comments” either.
Maintaining wellness and mental health requires a holistic approach (“holistic” meaning whole and comprehensive, not meaning “crunchy.” Of course, “crunchy” is an option if that’s your thing). This approach encompasses considerations of all facets of life and of health including sleep, job satisfaction, stress management, communication skills, caffeine intake, nutrition, deep relationships, creativity, play, and more. Some of these facets can yield immense benefits when utilized well.
Nature is one such facet.
The wellness benefits of regular exposure to nature can not be overstated. Various studies over decades of research indicate that time in nature may:
- reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
- improve focus and concentration
- increase positive feelings and indicators of happiness
- improve blood pressure and respiration rates
- invoke a sense of “awe”
- improve stress management
Nature, like any of the other facets mentioned above, is not a panacea. No ONE habit or facet of lifestyle can make us and keep us well. But nature is a very powerful tool to your holistic wellness and one that nearly everyone can benefit from.
What would it look like for you to increase your exposure to nature?
This depends so heavily on where you live and work, your mobility level, your habits, and even your allergies. 😊 Allow me to present some options for a few different circumstances.
Which of the following describes you?
- I already like nature, I have easy access to nature, I just need some ideas and motivation to increase my time in nature and reap the benefits fully.
- Nature is not much a part of my life. I am not sure how I could incorporate it more, but I am willing and have the means and resources to access more time in nature if I can get guidance on what to do and how.
- I live in a concrete jungle and won’t be visiting the woods any time soon. I am urban at heart or too far removed from the natural world to plan a hike on the weekend, but I see the benefits of nature and would like to find little ways to increase my exposure and improve my wellness.
Tips for “A”s and “B”s
- Schedule nature time into your weekly calendar. This may look like a canoeing day with friends, exploring some trails on a weekend, or visiting a botanical gardens or nature center with family. If you plan it and schedule it, it is far more likely to happen.
- Add nature time in little ways. It does not have to be a full outing or a full day. You may drive the “back way” on your way to do errands and roll down the windows to listen to the birds as you wind through the wooded roads. You might read while sitting in a lawn chair with your feet in the grass. You might just eat outside at lunch on your break from work.
- Double dip. Plan to exercise today? Change the setting to a more natural one and have a trail run instead of a treadmill run. Meeting a friend for lunch? Consider an outdoor venue. Walking the dog anyway? Pet-friendly paved trails through places like Ridley Creek State Park, Valley Forge or Struble Trail provide a dose of nature without being far off or remote. As you make your weekly plans for social events, meals, errands and entertainment, consider where which plans may be able to double as a nature experience and plan accordingly.
- Cultivate “nature friends.” If you have friends or acquaintances who are more “outdoorsy” or nature-oriented, increase your time with them. It will be easier for you to “double dip” as mentioned above, and their influence will shift your lifestyle to more naturally (excuse the pun) include nature.
Tips for “C”s
“Some” is better than “none” when it comes to nature exposure, so please know that your experience with nature does not need to be “all or nothing.” Below are some ways that might work for urban dwellers, nature-averse and “too busy” people alike.
- Add some “faux” nature to your world. Some studies have indicated that even hearing nature sounds or looking at natural images have benefits. So consider adding these environmental elements to your home or office. Nature photos, faux plants, nature soundtracks, pine, herb or floral scents, fountains, and even the color green can provide a small “dose” of nature.
- Bring the outdoors in. A la Frank Lloyd Wright, natural elements in a home or office can instill a sense of peace. Prop driftwood on a shelf, use a rock as a doorstop, maintain houseplants, tend to potted herbs in a 3” pot on your windowsill.
- Find patches of nature. Is there a tiny park in walking distance where you might sit in a plot of grass to eat your lunch? Even surrounded by skyscrapers and traffic noise, this little plot can serve as a refuge. Do you have a front stoop that could hold a potted plant? Some native sedge is zero maintenance and will likely come back year after year, even potted (in the Philadelphia region at least; this will depend on where you live). It is also inexpensive if someone walks off with it and you need to replace it. Maybe a back stoop would be a safer spot…
- Belong. Get a membership to a nature center r botanical gardens OR volunteer for such a place. This may not be a place you can get to weekly, but if you consider it an outing- or even a “prescription”- you can probably make it work monthly.
- Get away. When planning vacations or trips, consider immersion in a natural setting. A lake house, a ski trip, a week near the beach, a kayak adventure… even a daytrip to a river tubing adventure can reset you in a way that only nature can.
If you are not already inclined to spend time in nature, this may all sound a little “woo-woo.” I get it. I do.
But considering experimenting with some of the suggestions above… in the spirit of curiosity. See if you feel different after an hour at the park, or with birdsong filling your home. The enduring benefits come from regular and repeated exposure, but even “here and there” nature time can do wonders for the body, mind and soul.