The modern world as you know it is undoubtedly fast-paced — people tend to dedicate most of their time studying, working, and running errands on autopilot daily, leaving little room to stop and breathe. It is no wonder that mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are reported to be rising in recent years, affecting millions of people worldwide.
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your daily activities that you feel mentally exhausted? If so, then this is where you should press ‘pause’ on life. Taking time to rest might sound trivial, but you might be surprised by just how much of a positive impact it can bring on your mental health.
And while there are many ways to pause your day, allocating some of your time to connect with nature has proven to be a simple yet effective method to reduce stress and improve your well-being.
This article will present ways to cultivate your sense of connectedness with nature and valuable insights into the profound advantages of forging a deep bond with the natural world around you.
What is connectedness with nature?
Connectedness with nature refers to the degree to which individuals feel a sense of closeness, attachment, and identification with the natural world (Schultz, 2002). According to various studies, connectedness with nature has been linked to a range of positive outcomes, including better overall well-being, enhanced positive emotions, and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In addition, people who report higher levels of connectedness with nature are also more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviors, suggesting that a strong connection to nature may benefit individuals and the planet as a whole.
With the increasing prevalence of mental health challenges and the rising global issues of climate change, it seems more vital for individuals to adopt ways to become more connected with nature and nourish both the soul and the environment.
Impact of nature connectedness on well-being
So what is it about connecting with nature that has such a powerful impact on our overall health? One theory is that human brains evolved in nature and that being in natural environments is inherently calming and restorative.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, exposure to nature has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure, and improve immune function.
Additionally, spending time in nature can be in the form of exercise, such as walking and running, which has been shown to impact mental health positively. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters, and can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How to be more connected to the surrounding nature
One simple way to become more connected to nature is (as you might have already presumed by the title of this article) to take a walk in the woods.
A study showed that while walking, in general, may improve one’s psychological state in terms of reduced anxiety and perceived stress, a 50-minute walk on a forest path was found to yield the biggest positive change in comparison to a 50-minute walk along a busy road or walking while doing daily chores and activities.
Walking in the forest while actively taking in and paying attention to the surrounding nature is also known as forest bathing or shinrin-yoku.
Developed in the 1980s, it is a commonly practiced form of ecotherapy in Japan where people would visit forests and immerse themselves in the calm and serene atmosphere, observing and listening to the sights and sounds of nature. Regular practice of shinrin-yoku has been associated with numerous health benefits, including alleviating symptoms of depression and improving physiological health.
The process of forest bathing typically involves the following steps:
Finding a suitable natural environment
Forest bathing encourages individuals to seek out forests, woodlands, or any natural area with trees and vegetation. It can be a local park, a nature reserve, or even a small forested area.
Disconnecting from distractions
Before entering the natural environment, it is essential to disconnect from electronic devices and distractions. The focus is on immersing yourself fully in the experience of nature.
Engaging your senses
Once in nature, the practice involves engaging all five senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch — to experience the surroundings fully.
Take time to observe the trees’ and plants’ colors, shapes, and textures. Touch the tree bark, leaves, or the ground beneath your feet. Listen to the sounds of birds, leaves rustling, or water flowing. Pay attention to any scents or aromas present.
Mindful walking and exploration
Shinrin-yoku often incorporates slow, mindful walking through the forest. Mindfulness can help you focus on the present moment and become more aware of your surroundings.
As you walk, focus on the physical sensations, such as the feeling of the ground beneath your feet or the gentle sway of branches overhead. Engage your senses, noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Take your time to explore different areas and appreciate the beauty of nature.
Mindfulness and meditation
These may include deep breathing exercises, guided meditations, or simply being present at the moment, observing your thoughts and sensations without judgment. Practicing mindfulness in nature has been found to enhance one’s connectedness with nature.
Relaxation and contemplation
Shinrin-yoku encourages individuals to find a peaceful spot in the forest to sit or lie down, allowing for deep relaxation and contemplation. This tranquil environment promotes a sense of calm and connection with nature.
Gratitude and reflection
Towards the end of the forest bathing experience, take time to reflect on the insights gained, the beauty encountered, and the gratitude for nature’s healing presence. This reflection cultivates a sense of appreciation and well-being.
In a world where constant stimulation and connectivity can lead to burnout and fatigue, taking a break to connect with nature can be a valuable tool for maintaining your mental health and well-being. By cultivating a sense of connectedness with the natural world, you can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improve your overall well-being.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed or stressed, consider pausing and spending time in the natural environments nearby, such as walking in the woods. It’s for your own good, for which your mind and body will thank you later.
If you would like to see more resources on connectedness with nature, visit the Wellbeing Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Check out the Wellbeing Science Labs today.
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