If you are ever in turmoil, going to nature can help. There, you can find inner peace and love, coming away refreshed. But why is it nature has such a powerful healing effect on us? It's a proven fact spending time outdoors makes us happier. The answer is: We are a part of nature too, and interacting with it truly helps us connect to our truest state of being. Here's how to utilize nature's healing effects to calm a troubled mind.
How nature soothes the human mind
Every time I’m upset, my go-to solution is spending time outdoors. I don’t need a beautiful, picture-perfect mountain view to be rejuvenated (even though that would certainly be lovely). Just being near trees, green grass, and some flowers is more than enough. Soaking up the sunshine or bathing under the moonlight…nature has a powerful effect on not just me, but most of the population. In fact, according to Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, within five minutes of being outside, your heart rate slows, your muscles start to relax, and regions of your brain involved in decision making and emotions shift from boil to simmer. It’s really quite amazing, and an easy way to quell a stressed mind and soul.
According to Finnish researchers, being in nature just five hours a month can make you happier overall. Spending time with living plants and animals also helps us forget about our own problems and builds a sense of connectedness to other people. Going out in nature during the day will even boost your productivity and creativity later on in the day. So why not go out and enjoy the fresh air? Grab a friend, significant other, or just go out by yourself and enjoy what you find. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Ways to utilize nature for mental health
If you’re ready to utilize nature for its amazing healing skills, here are a few ways to do exactly that. I promise, they’re easy and take up very little of your time. Plus, they’re incredibly enjoyable!
1. Spend at least 30 minutes in nature every day.
For starters, it might be a good idea to set a goal for yourself. Often times we get caught up in our very busy lives and proclaim we don’t have the time to go outside and take a load off. Set a reminder on your phone or calendar to get outside for 30 minutes every day. You can do this before or after work—even if it means sitting on your front steps, walking around your neighborhood, or driving to your local park. Whatever makes you happiest, or improves your quality of life. You’ll be glad you did in the end too: Spending time outside really takes you out of any rut you might be in and helps you de-stress, letting a busy mind unwind after a stressful day, or prepare for a busy day.
2. Go on nature walks.
If you have a little extra time, go on a nature walk! This is ideal to do on the weekend, and when the weather is cooperative. Explore as you walk and be open to noticing any new growth—small or large—that you encounter, such as mushrooms, some new seedlings, a newly planted tree. Also, if the seasons are starting to change, notice the leaves on the trees—are they just starting to bud, become green, change colors, or fall off? Take it all in and appreciate how there is beauty in both life and death. Life is ephemeral so we must admire and be thankful for the moment we’re currently in. Also on your walk, notice any changes in the air—such as if it feels like it’s going to rain, or if it’s extra warm that day. Welcome those changes with open arms and enjoy them for what they give you. Smell your surroundings—do you smell the rain in the air before you see it? A whiff of pine trees as you walk past them? Smelling pine trees actually boosts your immune system, so there are many benefits to taking in your natural surroundings using your nose. Make your walk a sensory experience by finding ways to see, smell, touch, and hear everything around you at one point or another.
Also, taking a nature walk is one way you can get in 40 minutes of nature every day as well—it's also a good way to exercise your body without constraining it. Perhaps take your walk after eating dinner or in the morning before work. If you commute to work and have to walk somewhere to get to your destination, turn that time into a nature walk by observing any nature you come across along the way.
3. Take up gardening.
There’s no better feeling than planting something, watching it grow, and harvesting it with your own hands. You grew that food and you can certainly taste the love and effort you put into it when you take a bite. Gardening is incredibly rewarding and so good for you. Not only does it encourage you to eat healthier (because you can grow delicious fruits and vegetables), but it also is great for mental health. There’s nothing a little soil under your fingertips can’t solve: It connects you to the earth in a very literal way, and toiling through some dirt is a great stress buster. It connects you to another life form, which you can nurture and help grow into a beautiful plant that gives back to you in so many ways. When you garden you utilize all your senses: Touch, smell, sight, sound, taste. It’s a very interactive experience, making it both enjoyable and healing. If you’re afraid you have a black thumb, or you don’t have the room to garden, there are some options available to you. Offer to volunteer at a community garden where there are others around you can learn from, or start an indoor container garden to place on your windowsill. As long as you’re interacting with a living, breathing plant, you’ll definitely experience the healing benefits.
4. Try forest bathing.
If you live near a forest, I highly suggest you utilize it! If not, plan a trip to one—even if it’s just a mini-weekend getaway, because forest bathing is all the rage. For good reason too! Forest bathing is essentially just taking time to connect with nature and improve your health, much like everything else on this list. However, forest bathing entails you retreat into a forest and immerse yourself in its healing atmosphere. The practice originated in Japan in the late 1980s, so it’s not entirely new (though people have come to love it even more nowadays). Let me emphasize something though: Forest bathing is not a sweaty hike through the woods. It is much more relaxing and peaceful than that. The goal of forest bathing is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. This entails lying on the ground, foraging for forest edibles, meditating, noticing the foliage and bark of the trees, etc. Another way to enhance forest bathing is by earthing (walking barefoot) in a forest. The idea is to connect fully to the earth, grounding your energy and resetting your natural electromagnetic fields to center the body. We’re constantly exposed to electromagnetic fields because we’re surrounded by electronic devices, cell phone towers, and modern day technology. This can greatly throw our own electromagnetic fields off—which is where earthing comes in. It helps re-center your own electromagnetic field, along with connecting you to mother nature more. Forest bathing has many benefits such as reducing stress, boosting your mood, and helping you sleep better (to name a few). Try going forest bathing every one to four weeks for the best results.