After the last year’s on-off confinements, the world outdoors pulls us like never before. In the wake of the pandemic, our longing for the natural elements – earth, sky, trees, sunlight – has become stronger than ever.
This goes much deeper than a desire for a change in scenery. Natural spaces offer an experience of vitality, joy and connection with other living things – many of which have been lacking recently. And in doing so, nature brings a host of benefits to our minds and bodies.
The positive power of nature
Studies show that the presence of greenspace in urban environments diminishes depression, anxiety and stress levels in city dwellers. Time spent in greenspaces has also been shown to improve feelings of self-esteem, confidence and mental wellness.
Natural light is also a wonderful boost for our systems. Exposure to natural light helps to regulate our bodies’ circadian rhythm, improving our sleep patterns and general wellbeing. Sunlight is also thought to increase the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked with the regulation of our mood.
Walking outdoors is another great mood enhancer. Light exercise such as walking releases endorphins, which are known as our body’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals. Combined with the uplifting experience of a natural environment, the effects are even more potent.
Harnessing the benefits
The more we engage with nature, the greater the impact on our wellbeing.
In Japan and China, there is a popular practice known as Shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’. This involves spending time in a wood or forest to ‘bathe’ in the atmosphere – and has been shown to bring a plethora of health gains.
Yet the effects of nature can be felt in smaller ways too. Even spending time in a garden, observing a tree growing in a city, or simply feeling the touch of natural light on our skin has immense benefits.
Connecting with nature in whatever way possible is a chance to pay full attention to our surroundings and to be in the present moment.
Observing the natural world, we are also reminded that life is part of an interconnected whole. This helps us to gain a wider perspective – and to remember that we too are part of nature, and must respect our own inner rhythms, in harmony with our environment, in order to find greater happiness and balance .