Life is so busy and can get chaotic at times. It may appear that we are always juggling the duties and commitments of life, while micromanaging every area of ourselves and our life to feel like we are achieving anything or making our deadlines. Though this seems like an unavoidable feature of modern life, this constant state of mental and physical arousal can lead to increased stress, which has detrimental consequences for both the body and the mind.
Prolonged stress (when not positively managed) can lead to a decline in happiness and can be a contributing factor to the onset of mental illness. On average in the UK, adults spend a staggering 22 hours, which equates to 90% of their day, indoors. Getting out of our concrete jungles and reconnecting with nature allows us to escape and reconnect with the environments where we once thrived.
Benefits of Connecting with Nature
There are many advantages of getting closer to the natural world and immersing ourselves in nature. These benefits range from physiological to psychological benefits that positively impact our minds, bodies, and spirits. Some of these benefits include:
Peace of Mind
Being amongst more natural surroundings creates a peace of mind that helps us to escape from the more negative emotions and stress that we may feel day to day. It also generates feelings such as calmness and lower levels of anxiety within us. When we get the chance to step outside of the tedium of the world indoors that we inhabit, our minds get a break from the stream of chaos and take a chance to embrace the stillness of the natural world.
Some of the greatest artists of our time have found the greatest muse within nature. Van Gogh and Claude Monet are two examples of how spending time in a natural environment can inspire us to the point of genius. Nature is an amazing resource to spark inspiration and getting outside can reduce the impact of creative block.
Promotes Body and Mind Health
Body health is promoted by getting active outdoors. A brisk walk, or a hike, can help us to keep our joints in action and can help us to burn excess body fats we have stored. Movement is also medicine for the mind and being active, especially amongst nature, is a terrific way to lessen the impact of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
Reduced Blood Pressure
In a study completed by Ideno and Hayashi, they measured the blood pressure readings of 732 patients, some within a forest environment and others outside of the forest environment. Their results highlighted that spending time in the forest, or forest bathing showed a reduction of blood pressure.
In the often-stressful day and age in which we live it is extremely easy to want to escape our routines and daily existences. Sometimes we may opt for forms of escape that are not healthy, especially when stressed. Nature offers us a positive form of escapism, in which we can find stillness, peace, tranquillity and calmness. What a better way to seek solace when life gets too much than in the green embrace of Mother Nature’s arms?
How can we get closer to nature?
Visiting Local Parks
There are a multitude of natural resources around us from local woodlands and reserves to fields and parks. We can access these for free a lot of the time, other than specific organisational reserves such as the Woodlands Trust that may need membership to access. Often these wonderful green places are closer than we think. They may only be a short travel away via public transport, or even accessible via walking.
Forest Bathing Meditation
The Japanese art of Sinrin-joku, or forest bathing, as mentioned before is an amazing way to benefit from the bounty of Mother Nature. Walking in the woods has a stress-reducing effect on humans, Sinrin-joku is a form of meditation. During forest bathing one sits between the trees and engages all the five senses, which we will touch upon a little later in the article. When completed over time, Sinrin-joku can change the way we perceive the world around us, which we can then take back into our everyday lives.
Grounding or Earthing Techniques
These can be as simple as walking on grass with barefoot or touching the bark of a tree with your bare hands. It is a fantastic way to deeply connect with mother nature as it offers a physical union between the earth and ourselves. It is thought that grounding or earthing techniques allow us to tap into the frequencies that are emitted from natural life forms and when connecting with these energy fields, or life forces, we feel more invigorated and over time it can produce higher levels of well-being within us.
Gardening is a wonderful way to connect with nature in a hand on and nurturing way! You can sow seeds and watch them grow, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. If the space is not readily available, you may be able to get planters and make a make-shift vegetable patch or a small wildflower patch in one of those! This helps to get a yard greener too. Planters can be hung onto the brick-walls and small planters can be used to create a greener space that is readily available to you.
Introducing houseplants to your home
If you do not have a garden, you can always implement more greenery into your home by introducing plant life via houseplants. This is a fantastic way to feel the benefits of nature from your own home and offers the chance to gain more fresh air in there too, as they produce oxygen from absorbing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere that they are in via photosynthesis during the day – your very own air fresheners as well and something to care for and nurture in return.
Hiking or walking
Walking through nature aids us to get active, improve our physical resilience and clear our minds in the process. It can either be scheduled mountain scale or a simpler walk across a local field or park! Walking and hiking can help us to switch off and stay mindful as when we are moving we are only focusing on the event at hand and the surrounding around us. Movement is medicine too – getting out about active in a natural environment provides a wealth of physical benefits.
Foraging is the act of identifying and even harvesting the bountiful foods of the natural world, from plants and flowers to mushrooms (fungi). It is a way to find a deeper connection to nature as it connects us to our hunter gatherer roots. Seasoned foragers may harvest their finds and put them into delicious dishes. However, it is crucial to first learn how to successfully identify natural foods before harvesting them to eat, as there can be side effects to certain mushrooms and plants that can cause upset stomach or other serious health problems in extreme cases. A good starting place is to get books on identifying wild mushrooms and wild plants and get active! As the law of attraction sets in, you will be amazed at how many specimens you will come across!
The Wonder of Phytoncides
Phytoncides are natural oils within plants that function as a natural pest control agents that deter insects, bacteria, and various fungi from infecting and attacking them. When humans bask within nature, these phytoncides have been scientifically proven to raise levels of mood and minimise stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which allows us to feel more relaxed and centred.
Mindfulness and nature
When we tune into the natural world around us, we engage all our senses. This serves us as a simple meditative practice when amongst the nature. This helps by engaging our minds to focus on the present, here and now.
Nature holds a vast palette of colours that change throughout the seasons. The rich greens of spring and summer are in stark contrast with the auburn tones of autumn. At wintertime, the trees grow barren and bare. Nature holds a festival of spectacle delights all year round and really allows us to engage with our sense of sight. The colour green has calming effects on the body, which we can find in the tree canopies and all around in spring and summer! The same for the colour blue, which if we are lucky enough, will be painted across the sky on our outings, and when the sun lowers its weary head, the beauty of a sunset is almost indescribable… Natural beauty is all around us!
Whether it is the trickle of a stream, or the song of birds clambering atop the tree canopy blowing amidst the windfall. Nature speaks to us. Its sounds offer a sense of solitude and company, its words are unique to each that hear them. Tuning into these can really give a greater sense of unity with the world around us and help us to ground ourselves.
The smell of earth, or freshly cut grass is so much cleaner and full of much more clarity than the air-freshened world we spend most of our time within! When the rain is about the fall, the air becomes filled with petrichor, one of the most unique and distinct smells.
The feeling of earth underfoot is distinct, whether you are walking with shoes on or without. If you run your fingertips over the bark of a tree, you will feel it is individuality and uniqueness from the next. The wind blowing against your skin, your body soaking up the sun’s timeless rays.
When foraging, the earth has a bounty of gifts to offer us! It is only recommended to eat certain wild fruits, fungi, and flowers if you are skilled enough in the art of foraging to confidently do so. It is not recommended for first time foragers to eat anything they find, however, gaining an insight into the world of foraging is an exciting and excellent way to embrace our connection to the natural world.
When we take time out to unwind and reconnect with nature on a regular basis, we can carry that calm back into our often-stressful everyday lives, utilising mindfulness techniques and harness the stillness of the Mother Nature and the Earth within out day to day lives. Are you ready to switch off and re-connect?
There are many psychological and physiological benefits to connecting with nature. We can get closer to nature by becoming aware of natural resources available to us and using them regularly. Phytoncides are natural oils produced by plants to protect them from fungal and bacterial infections, as well as pests. These have been scientifically linked to stress reduction in humans. We can tune into our five senses via meditative practises and being mindful when amongst the natural world; this calms and engages our minds to focus on the present, here and now.
2: Ideno, Y., Hayashi, K., Abe, Y., Ueda, K., Iso, H., Noda, M., Lee, J. S., & Suzuki, S. (2017). Blood pressure-lowering effect of Shinrin-yoku (Forest bathing): a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 17(1), 409. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-017-1912-z