“Nature can bring you stillness, that is its gift to you.” — Tolle
There is something about nature that touches the human spirit. From Hippocrates, The Buddha, Muir, Emerson and Tolle, there is enduring wisdom about the healing and restorative power that nature holds for us.
Recent research has shown even more evidence of this immense power, the nature and health connection.
How do you define nature? Is it found in our magnificent national park system, the campground you go to during the weekend or the herb garden growing in your backyard? Or, is it connected to the animals that bring joy to your life, the birds singing their morning wake-up song or that rock collection in your basement?
The answer is “yes.” Let’s expand our thinking about what nature means to us and how readily available it is.
According to Richard Louv, we are suffering from a nature deficit disorder. Although not an official mental health diagnosis, we certainly can see it and feel it. We are less connected with the natural world than ever before — particularly children.
According to one study, the average American spends 93% of their time in enclosed buildings and vehicles. This lifestyle has led to an epidemic of inactivity, to many of our emotional and physical illnesses, and for some, a disconnection with their place in the universe.
Fortunately, a reconnection with the natural world has proven benefits for every aspect of our well-being.
Nature’s impact on mental health
Ecotherapy, or contact with nature, has been found to be as effective on depression as psychotherapy and medication in adults and children. Even 30 minutes spent in a green space can reduce depression, anxiety and stress.
Stress reduction seems to be a key benefit by lowering the stress hormone cortisol. Research on the Japanese practice of forest bathing —quiet, mindful walking in a forest — has strengthened the evidence of the nature and health connection.
Forest bathing research showed that due to a chemical released by certain trees, phytoncides, stress hormones were lowered, blood pressure was lowered, immunity was strengthened and there as a greater level of wellbeing reported.
Nature’s impact on physical health
As stated earlier, we suffer from an epidemic of inactivity with the average person sitting a minimum of 11 hours per day. Add our nightly sleep hours to that, and it is obvious we are in need of increased movement.
In addition to the increased movement we typically acquire from our time in nature, further benefits includice:
• Boosting your immune system.
• Lowering blood pressure.
• Reducing stress.
• Improving your mood.
• Increasing your ability to focus, even in children with ADHD.
• Accelerating recovery from surgery or illness.
• Increasing your energy levels.
• Improving sleep.
Nature’s impact on spiritual health
Spending time in nature increases our sense of awe — those peak experiences when we remember that we are part of the life cycle and connected to something far greater than ourselves.
Nature can awaken our sense of wonder and lead us to greater creativity, serenity and peace. Simultaneously, we can feel humbled by the vitality and enormity of the universe and empowered by the wisdom that we are a part of such magnificence.
Tapping into the healing power of nature might be easier than you think. Even if you live in an urban setting or are unable to travel to a distant park or preserve, there are ways to open your senses and enjoy the benefits from nature.
One of the easiest is to locate a green space and go there. Turn off your digital devices and make this a healing time just for you. Just sitting in that space has benefits, but experience it all with a mindful walk, listen to birdsong and other sounds and scents of nature.
If you are not a gardener or think you don’t have a green thumb, it is easier than you think. Start small with a windowsill herb garden or a patio tomato, or go big and plant everything for your summer salads and salsa. Resources are available in the community to help you get started.
If you feel your mind, body and spirit are in need of healing and renewal, unplug and spend some quiet time in nature.
Linda Peterson is a life purpose and wellness coach at Statera Integrated Health and Wellness Solutions in Dubuque.