We all get told we need sunshine for Vitamin D, that fresh air is good for us and that running or walking outside is better than doing it in a gym. We all inherently know being outside is good for us but there's more to nature and wellbeing than perhaps you first thought.
The little known field of Ecopsychology and Ecotherapy has been slowly simmering away over the last few decades and with more and more books and articles written on the benefits of nature and people like Alistair Humphrey's promoting the back-yard micro-adventure, things are slowly starting to become more mainstream. As more and more people feel disconnected from the Earth, more and more people become consumed by the stresses of everyday living, the rise for holistic alternatives and outdoor therapy services is in demand.
So what's all the fuss about?
Research in Andy McGeeney's book With Nature in Mind highlights key theories as to why this surge in nature therapy is happening. Attention Restoration Theory (developed by Kaplan) states that nature can help someone recover from the pressures of modern life. Looking at screens for a long period of time is a complex way of thinking and over time we become extremely tired. McGeeney goes on to explain that our attention can be refreshed and revitalised in nature as we effortlessly and involuntarily notice other lighter things like bird song or the wind. Being outside gives our brain a break from such high intensity focus. We also feel a compatibility, that feeling of belonging.
Here's some ideas to help you connect with nature whether you're a city slicker or a countryside dweller.
1. Go barefoot - from becoming more aware of your senses, to the delight of feeling fresh earth between your toes to the child like memories being barefoot brings - there are so many benefits from kicking off your shoes and socks.
2. Eat outside - take your lunch and sit on the office wall, watch the world go by, feel the sunshine on your face or wrap up warm and feel the wind. Cook your dinner outside on an open fire, BBQ's are not just for the summer.
3. Bring nature inside - Research from the University of Melbourne says having a view of nature can really help your brain function better and improves your psychological responses. So, even if you live in a tall apartment block or work in a high-rise office you can bring nature in. The office plant really does work!
4. Be mindful - take a different route home. Notice what you can see, check in with what you can hear. Smell nature - freshly mown grass, the smell of the earth after a heavy rainfall. Nature is a fantastic way to practice mindfulness as it's so colourful, so full of sound and so changeable.
5. Spot beauty in the tiny things - often we walk straight through life without a lot of awareness for what's around us. We're in a rush, we're on our phone or we're worrying and are all consumed by our thoughts. Instead, try taking some time to spot nature in the smallest of ways and in the tiniest of places. Do you see that dandelion that so many call a weed creeping through the crack in the tarmac? The beauty in the tiny patch of moss growing on the brick wall. Nature is everywhere if you keep an eye out.
6. Love a pet - Stroking an animal is great for reducing stress. Watching fish is an ancient Eastern practice for relaxation and is proven to help the mind relax and rejuvenate. With websites now like Borrow My Doggy, and man offices doing Bring Your Dog To Work charity fundraisers, even living in an inner city is no excuse to connect with an animal.
7. Plant food - From full size allotments to tiny window box herb gardens, more and more people are seeing the benefits of growing their own food. From thrift to health to nature connection, there are many reasons to get planting this weekend.
8. Plan in time to reconnect - Having something to look forward to can often help get us through a stressful week. Maybe this time you could plan to connect with nature? Make an effort to take your book to the park, go on a nature connect retreat, hike with friends or even enjoy a winter BBQ.
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