Like many of my peers, I was raised in “pristine” suburbia with all of the manicured lawns but none of the vast expanses of nature that you can only truly experience in rural locales. I was always somewhat comfortable in nature, but it took time for me to feel fully at peace and open to the benefits of simply being outdoors, off the grid, by myself.
Nowadays nature is a vital part of who I am, how I live, and what I impart to my wellness coaching clients. For many of us, making time to reconnect with nature can be a challenge. Our lives are so hectic and scheduled — and dependent on technology — it may seem impossible to walk away.
But it is possible, and necessary.
Today, people increasingly live in urban centers and spend more and more time on screens. Continuing COVID-19 related restrictions have only exacerbated this already problematic trend, for both working adults and for TikTok-addicted kids.
But as the stresses of everyday modern life build up, and especially in this topsy turvy time of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest, carving out time to just turn everything off and breathe fresh air is absolutely vital.
Here are four reasons why.
1. Gain a sense that you’re part of something big
In one study from the American Psychological Association journal, researchers found that participants who watched the documentary Planet Earth were 46% more likely to feel awe and 31% more likely to feel grateful than those who watched neutral or comedy programming.
If just watching nature on a screen can inspire powerful, positive reactions, how much more so experiencing nature in reality? In my experience, getting outside can dramatically improve both psychological and physical wellbeing by giving people some much-needed perspective.
When I was younger, I didn’t fully appreciate how immense and complex the natural world around me was. By venturing into nature, however; I gained a broader perspective, and with it the ability to overcome challenges and appreciate what I have.
2. Enjoy increased happiness
Stress is a risk factor for a host of illnesses, including heart disease. In particular, work-related stress can have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health, but there is one easy antidote — sunlight.
Just getting outside into the sunlight and breathing fresh air can release serotonin, the “happiness hormone,” and bring relief from everyday stressors. Plus, if you move your body in nature you’ll get the added benefit of an endorphin boost.
For some people, getting out of urban centers and into an expanse of nature isn’t accessible, but one study in the UK found that even a little green space – for example, a community garden or park – had a positive impact on mood.
Even if you’re staying close to home, get out into the fresh air and find serenity. Use these moments to face your undistracted self and make peace with what you have and where you are in life.
3. Improve your brain function
In addition to the psychological and health benefits, reconnecting with nature can also help your brain perform better. I know that this works for me: often when I have important tasks to get done, I can feel overwhelmed, unfocused, or uninspired. But after spending some time in nature, I feel recharged and ready to tackle any project.
Staying glued to your screens and neglecting your human need to connect with nature can crush creativity and even affect how your brain performs over time. This is backed by research, including studies linking time spent on screens with lower academic performance among students.
As both kids and adults spend most of their days indoors and on screens, a growing number of experts are ringing the alarm about “nature withdrawal”. Regular connection to nature can improve concentration, learning, cooperation, self-awareness and even foster better memory performance.
4. Save the world
Yes, you read that correctly. I’m not saying you’ll turn into a radioactive superhero with bionic vision, but by connecting to nature, you will learn to appreciate it, respect it, and may even take a more active role in saving it.
After spending time outdoors, my clients often report back to me about aspects of the natural world that they’ve observed and gained new appreciation for. This awareness, moreover, fosters a sense of responsibility for preserving nature in all of its wonder, and that’s where saving the world comes in.
Aside from being kind to the world, reconnecting with nature also makes us kinder to one another. Just being in nature enhances a range of positive prosocial feelings and behaviors, including agreeableness, empathy, generosity, trust, and willingness to help others. Basically, being outside makes us better people.
Time to recharge and reconnect
Nature has been an integral part of my journey, and it’s one of the foundations of my coaching practice, as any of my clients will tell you. So if you’re feeling disconnected, unmotivated, or down, think about the kind of landscape that brings you joy, and then go outside and find it.
Reconnecting with nature, no matter how challenging it seems in the crush of daily life, is vital to your health and wellbeing. So take the time you need to be alone and to just be outdoors, under the healing sunlight and among green living things — your body, mind and soul will thank you.