These days when we talk about nature, it's most often in terms of environmental or eco friendliness.
For instance, as Earth day approaches on April 22, the organizers at Earth Day Network and environmental groups everywhere zoom in on issues such as improved carbon footprints, better waste management and sustainability. All worthy goals. But, what's frequently missing in the focus on green living is nature's role in boosting your mental health and well-being.
And what a role it plays. Nature has a long history of being relaxing, healing and grounding. Its restorative powers are even more important for those who live in urbanized environments characterized by fast-paced, high-stress, high-tech living. Urban dwellers spend less and less time outdoors and more time indoors with sedentary pursuits such as surfing social networks and watching TV.
While many of us count ourselves luckier than our parents' generation because we have all these electronic gadgets, this lifestyle can lead to what author Richard Louv refers to as "nature deficit disorder" in his book "Last Child in the Woods." I hear you: "Not another disorder!" Your scepticism about the labeling is understood; but, there's no denying the effects of nature deficit.
For instance, there's ample evidence that children learn better when they spend time outdoors. On the flip side, keeping kids cooped up indoors can lead to anxiety, depression and attention problems. In one study published in the "American Journal of Public Health," University of Illinois researchers found that green outdoor activities in singles or pairs significantly improved symptoms in children with ADHD.
But these children aren't the only ones who can benefit. Researchers at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in collaboration with the European Centre for Environment and Human Health investigated the benefits of exercising indoors and outdoors. Adults who preferred to work up a sweat outdoors reported feeling more refreshed, having increased energy levels, positivity and a sense of revitalization compared to those who worked out indoors or in a gym. Some in the nature group also experienced less anger, confusion, depression and tension.
These aren't small benefits, especially when you consider that Americans are often plagued by fatigue or tiredness due to stress and lack of sleep, and that cases of depression continue to rise. When problems such as mental or physical fatigue and depression strike, you may be tempted to reach for a bottle of pills to cope. But, don't be surprised that more psychologists are recommending reconnecting with nature as a treatment. It provides a range of stimuli for the senses, tranquility, and restorative powers that simply cannot be bottled.
However, if you've been coping with symptoms such as fatigue, confusion, inability to focus or depression for a long period, visit your family doctor. Your doctor can rule out any underlying physical problems or recommend that you see a psychotherapist.
10 Easy Ways to Reconnect to Nature
- Put on a comfortable pair of walking shoes and go for a walk in a wooded area.
- Plant a potted herb or vegetable garden.
- Play or picnic with your children, friends or colleagues at a park.
- Hike or cycle along a protected nature trail.
- Take a walk along a beach, or go for a swim, at a nearby ocean, sea or lake.
- Put a bird feeder in your backyard or on your balcony to attract birds.
- Go to sleep to the sounds of nature, such as birds, waves or whales, on an ambient CD.
- Keep fragrant potted flowers in your home or office.
- Borrow a book on botany from your local library and go species spotting with your child at a nearby wood or trail.
- Take the opportunity whenever you can to gaze at stars or the moon.