“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
– Henry David Thoreau
Let’s face it, life is busy. It’s loud, it’s stressful and many times it’s downright exhausting. We all know that too much stress and becoming overly tired isn’t good for anyone, and, can be particularly troublesome for those of us with mental health issues.
We know that getting enough sleep can help with the exhaustion, and taking time to relax in a hot bath, or cuddled up with a good book can relieve stress, but what else is there? Yoga classes, meditation, exercise. Yes. But an even simpler solution might just be right outside your door..or a short drive away.
And that, my friends, is nature.
A walk in the woods can not only slow down our minds, but it can bring about a sense of peace and a connection to the world around us. The timeless beauty of a tree, a babbling brook, or a lush green meadow, has the power to lift our spirits and make us feel whole.
Numerous studies have been conducted to look further into the connection between our mental health and time spent in nature, and the findings are consistent- More time in nature leads to an improvement in feelings of well-being and overall quality of life.
But why is this?
Some scientists believe that since our ancestors evolved in the wilderness and relied on it for survival, we have an evolutionary connection to nature. There is even an entire field of psychology that focuses on the human connection to nature and it’s psychological effects, called Ecopsychology.
Studies in the feild of Ecopsychology have shown that spending time in nature triggers a physiological response that lowers stress levels and boosts mood. One study even found that the sounds of nature alone can have significant cognitive benefits. In fact, a study of the impact of listening to the sounds of crickets chirping and waves crashing found that those test subjects that listened to these natural sounds performed better on tests than those who listened to urban sounds like traffic, and the hustle and bustle of a busy cafe.
Spending time in nature can also be an excellent way to improve attention, focus, and concentration issues caused by ADHD. Though more research is still being done to better understand how this works within the brain, it’s safe to say that the trees, the sky, the plants, and the wild uninhabited terrain, creates the perfect ambiance to take a breath and be truly present. Which, in turn, makes our thinking clearer and our attention sharper.
But what if you live in an urban area with limited access to nature?
Do you have to up and move into a little hut in the mountains?
No, but a weekend getaway to a cabin or even a camping trip is probably a lot closer to your location than you think.
You may have to travel a little outside of your home base, but no matter where you are, usually within an hour or two drive, you can find yourself in nature.
While there, make a day out of it. Pack some food, bring a friend, bring your dog, go hiking, swimming, biking, sit under a tree and read, meditate- whatever activity that you enjoy.
Or just simply find a path, walk into the woods, and just be there. Look around, and take in the surroundings. Some studies have shown that even just a few minutes in nature can boost your mood, clear your mind, and leave you feeling more grounded and connected to your surroundings and to yourself.
If traveling into a natural habitat isn’t within your budget or means, that’s ok too. Even sitting outside and taking the time to look up at the sky, can make a difference. Or you can try listening to a youtube video of nature sounds. Or, even better, do both of those at the same time.
Whatever you choose to do, just make the effort to make the natural world a part of your life. You might find yourself feeling better, and with the fresh air, and a little bit of extra exercise from hiking and walking in the woods, you might find yourself looking better as well.