I have always been an outdoorsy nature person. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time outside – my parents had the hardest time getting me to come back inside at the end of the day. My love of nature continues, and I share my passion for it with anyone who will listen! I always drag my family to state parks, zoos, and botanical gardens. However, times have changed drastically, with the popularization of technology, along with urbanization, and people spend way less time outdoors and around nature. On average, Americans spend 93% of their time inside developing a "nature deficiency syndrome." So why is this a big deal?
Besides nature helping us connect to something larger than ourselves, research is finding many benefits to being outside or just around green spaces. A long list of journal articles highlighting research on what could be called "ecotherapy" showed that being in nature can:
- Significantly improve mild depression through walks and gardening
- Decrease rumination and aggressiveness
- Improve creative problem solving
- Increase one's ability to think about and solve personal problems and improve creative problem solving
- Reduce stress
There are programs and studies that target veterans with PTSD, teenagers with addictions, relationship issues and low self-esteem, and children with ADD/ADHD, that have had very positive results with nature interventions.
The World Health Organization identifies stress and low physical activity as two of the leading contributors to premature death in developed nations. So could nature be the answer when exposure to nearby nature can effectively reduce stress, or simply having a view of nature produces recovery benefits?
The people of Japan have already invested in this belief. Shinrin Yoku or forest bathing, is a practice of simply being in the forest and paying attention with all your senses. This belief in the healing factor of nature is so strong in Japan that their healthcare system will prescribe it for physical and mental health, and insurance will cover it. Over 2.5 million Japanese practice forest bathing so they can reset their nervous systems, find focus and heal.
Anyone can practice this. The main suggestion is to get outside! And it doesn't have to be a forest, but could be a local park or even your backyard. Turn off your phone! Take your time and just take in the silence or sounds of nature. Try to engage all your senses – what you see, hear and feel. Just be mindful and focus on what's around you and going on in that moment and appreciate what you experience. You may even want to meditate, journal or draw.
If you have more interest in this topic, you can Google forest bathing or nature therapy or check out these books:
- Forest bathing: How trees can help you find health and happiness – by Qing Li
- The Healing Earth – by Phillip Sutton Chard
- The Nature Fix – by Florence Williams
When social distancing and sheltering-at-home by working and schooling from home - our screen time has most likely hit the proverbial roof! Therefore, it is more important than ever right now to make time for the outdoors and enjoy reaping the benefits Mother Nature has in store for us.
I'll leave you with this thought: "A remedy we can never have enough of is a healthy dose of nature", Henry David Thoreau