It’s no stretch to say the pandemic changed us. Between Zoom meetings, teaching to our children, and seeing the same four walls (and people), day in and day out, even the most high-spirited among us had our rough days. Pandemic or not, there are many tools and techniques you can use to lift your spirits, but here’s one you may not have thought of yet: nature.
There are many proven benefits to spending time in nature. Here’s a taste of the many (oh so many) possible boosts to your health:
- Reduces negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches
- Lowers stress hormones
- Improves quality of sleep
- Helps with the grief process
- Improves self-awareness
- Increases self-esteem
- Improves memory and focus
- Reduces nervous system arousal
- Enhances immune system function
- Improves mood
- Speeds the rate of healing
Are you putting on your shoes yet? The good news is you don’t need to carve out a lot of time to reap the benefits. You can start small and right in your own backyard (or even your balcony or windowsill)! Before you know it, you’ll be planning weekend camping trips.
Here are three specific reasons to get yourself out of the house and into the trees.
Reason #1: Time in nature gives your creativity a boost
Let’s talk about our phones for a minute. Technology demands our attention. We’ve become habituated to constantly checking, responding, and switching between tasks. This sort of activity taxes our executive attentional system. In other words, we get worn out constantly shifting our attention from one thing to another. And it isn’t just our smartphones. It’s our “smart” TVs, fridges, cars, or homes. Collectively, technology can wear us out.
According to Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE (December 12, 2012), spending time in nature is a low-stimulus activity. Nature isn’t demanding. It’s soft, gentle, and slow. It’s the break from our tech that we need to replenish our executive attentional systems. With that respite, comes an increase in problem-solving and creative thinking.
Although the study mentioned above suggests you need several days in nature to reap the most rewards, according to research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, all you need is 25 minutes in a green space to boost your creativity. Think of it as a brain reset in under half an hour. If you’re ready to go for the gusto, sure, take a few days in nature, but if that’s not feasible, get yourself to a local park, city garden, or nearby trail.
Reason #2: It can quickly change our physiology
When we’re awash in stress, our body is responding physiologically. Nature can reverse the effects of stress in as little as three to four minutes. To explain this in simple terms: nature soothes. It’s a great distractor.
When we become absorbed in scenes of nature instead of the stressors of our everyday lives, our body and mind get a break. Studies show a decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, brain activity, and cortisol. From this place of lowered stress, we’re able to experience a lift in mood.
With such a quick physiological effect – three to four minutes – anyone can benefit from even short interactions with nature. This is a great excuse to explore your local city. Is there a botanical garden you can visit? What about dog parks in your neighbourhood? Your backyard? If you’re lucky enough to live by the water, maybe a waterside walk is an option. Get out there and see which activities give you the greatest boost.Time spent amongst the trees
is never wasted.
— Katrina Mayer
Reason #3: Nature improves our connection to others
Studies using fMRI to measure brain activity show that time in nature activates parts of the brain related to empathy and love. Conversely, time in urban environments tends to light up the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety.
What if you shared your nature experience with a loved one? A study from the University of Illinois found that spending time with family in nature can strengthen bonds (The Effects of the Natural Environment on Attention and Family Cohesion: An Experimental Study). It turns out, time in nature restores your attention and makes you a little less testy. You’re better able to pick up on social cues.
Although the study only included mothers and daughters, it’s likely that all family members could benefit. Is it worth a 20-minute walk together for the possibility of a sense of closeness and unity?
Easy ways to bring more nature into your life
Use your city!
- Start with short walks around your neighbourhood
- Take your regular exercise outdoors (if you’re new to biking, many cities have bike organizations or clubs that offer information and support)
- Visit a bird sanctuary or a botanical garden
- Explore the various parks across your city
- Take your pooch to a new dog park that’s a little more big and lush than your local dog run
- Yoga at a park
- City gardens
- Local urban trails
Live in a house?
- Meditation or yoga on your back porch
Live in an apartment or townhome complex?
- What kind of green spaces do you have? Is there room for a small garden, a patch of grass, or a row of hedges?
Get out of town!
- Trail running
Life is fast. Nature is slow. It’s a place where you can just “be”, not “do”. If you want to bring more space into your life, nature could be a way to do that. Start small and build up. If transporting yourself to a forest is a hurdle, start with a park near your home. Instead of your stationary bike, take your ride outdoors. Yoga in the backyard anyone?
I hope your biggest takeaway is this: bringing nature into your life doesn’t have to be hard and the potential benefits are worth it. How will you bring more nature into your life this week?
- The Science of Happiness Podcast – Episode 93: Noticing Nature in the City https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/awe