Nature Heals – Why Connecting with the Environment Can Improve the Wellness of You and Your Family

B.Ed, M..Ed
Registered Psychologist
I have worked in schools and private practice as a teacher and a School Psychologist for over 35 years.

As the school year draws to a close many parents and students are worried about what September might bring. From learning gaps to increased mental health difficulties the potential for all sorts of problems related to the impact of the pandemic and subsequent suspension of classes have been topics of concern. How can parents and their children enjoy the summer ahead if they are in a state of heightened anxiety? One solution is to make an effort to reconnect with nature. Research is growing in a scientific field called ecotherapy which suggests that there is a strong connection between time spent in nature and one’s ability to manage stress effectively (Harvard Health, 2018).  Just a walk in the woods or a cycle along the river can awaken the innermost feelings of happiness and peace. According to a 2018 Healthy Parks-Healthy People Survey Report, staying close to green spaces such as parks, fields, farms and forests can increase the chance of related outdoor activities (walking, gardening and playing) which improves both mental and physical health (Chowdhury, 2019).  One comprehensive research study showed that spending a minimum of 120 minutes in a natural environment-compared with having no contact with nature in the last week-significantly increased the likelihood that a person would report feeling in good health and having high well-being (Wood, 2020). 

Spending time enjoying free play in nature counteracts our tendency to over program our children’s lives. In keeping with the theme of nature, Alison Gopnik (2016) suggests that adults should follow the gardener approach, which focuses on creating a fertile environment in which children can thrive on their own terms. She argues that adults need to shift their focus from creating a particular kind of child who will grow up to be a particular kind of adult, to instead creating an environment in which children can explore who they are and become the kind of adults they wish to be. A gardener approach recognizes that kids need to explore, take risks, be messy and make many mistakes t develop to their full potential (in Tranter, Boland and Carson, 2018). What better environment to do this then in nature. This summer instead of succumbing to the pressure of scheduling your child’s entire day with structured learning activities and programs that you believe will prepare them for the next school year, and give them a competitive edge for their future, relax and enjoy nature as a family as often as possible. You and your child/children have worked hard to do the best you could during the past few months of learning at home. Take the opportunity to become restored in natural environments. It is a wonderful escape from the usual settings and the fascinating stimulation in natural ecosystems will take your mind off day to day problems. 

Simple Ways to Apply the Positive Effects of Nature into Our Lives

Take a walk in nature and be mindful of what your senses are experiencing. Calming nature sounds like running water and birds chirping, and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol which calms the bodies fight or flight response. The visual aspects of nature can also have a soothing effect. Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so that your thoughts become less filled with worry. Research has shown that attending to pleasant scents can help imbed happy memories in your brain. 

Keep a nature journal. Invite family members to write about favorite experiences, collect plants to be pressed, take photographs or create sketches or paintings of your moments in nature. This will help everyone to reconnect with the positive feelings associated with these memories later on. 

Plant a garden or inside plants for the home. Share the fruits of your labour with family and friends. Visit the Farmer’s Market. Balance your diet with more plant based foods. 

Plan a camping trip or just sleep outdoors for one night. 

Keep in mind that connecting with nature does not have to mean a big event. Even small micro moments spent outdoors gives us a perspective for healthier living, helps motivate us to carry on and provides the energy to keep on trying. 

Enjoy being outdoors in all kinds of weather. The Danish have a saying, ”There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Maybe that is why year after year they are in the top 5 happiest nations in the world. 

These are just a few of many ways to enjoy the benefits of nature. Today a close friend of mine texted me pictures of she and her granddaughter making rock animals. How do you and your family like to spend time connecting with Mother Earth? I welcome you to share your ideas and family traditions to inspire others with ideas for the summer months ahead. Enjoy! 

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature-it will never fail you.” Frank Lloyd Wright 

References

Chowdhury, M.R., (2020). The Positive Effects of Nature On your Mental Well-Being, Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com  

Harvard health Publishing, (2018). Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu.so 

Tranter, D, Dr., Carson, L and Boland, T, (2018). The Third Path. A Relationship- Based Approach To Student Well-Being and Achievement, Nelson, Toronto, Ontario. 

Wood, C. (2020). Being Outside for a Surprisingly Short amount of Time can Improve Your Mental State. Retrieved from https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/student-mental-health-10-minute-a-day-in-nature-could-reduce-stress-anxiety-study-expert-explains 

Deborah Hinds-Nunziata
B.Ed, M..Ed Registered Psychologist I have worked in schools and private practice as a teacher and a School Psychologist for over 35 years.