Have you ever noticed how you feel after a day in the office? Can you feel the tension in your body? The stuckness? Then there is that moment when you step out into the fresh air and your whole body relaxes. I think we all know instinctively that getting outside makes us feel good and helps us to unwind after a stressful day, but modern science is now proving that there’s so much more to the story!
Spending time in nature is now actually prescribed by health professionals all over the world. It’s called Eco-therapy and it is the applied practice that was born out of an emerging branch of psychology called eco-psychology. It’s based on the principle that humans are not separate from nature, so it follows that being disconnected from nature would cause imbalances, and that reconnecting would help to correct those imbalances.
So what is eco-therapy? Well it can look a million different ways, from working in a garden, to practicing mediation or yoga outside, but at its core, it’s very simple. Spend time in nature being aware of nature.
The Japanese have been promoting eco-therapy since the 1980s through what they call ‘Forest Bathing’. The idea is that people spend time around trees, ideally doing nothing but enjoying the trees. No hiking, no counting steps, no jogging, just relaxing and ‘bathing’ in the glory of the forest. How nice does that sound?
Now you might be thinking “that sounds nice but how is it actually helping?” Well, I’m glad you asked! Because eco-therapy, as simple as it is, is the bomb when it comes to addressing our entire wellbeing.
Let’s look at the physiological effects of spending time in nature. Just to get us started, lazing under a tree will lower your heart rate & blood pressure. It will also reduce the stress hormones, and boost your immune system. And of course if you’re suffering from any kind of illness, it will also help you recover far more quickly.
But what about the impacts on how you feel emotionally? Well, you’re in for a treat there too, because whether you’re walking on the beach, or chilling out in your garden, the mere fact that you are connecting with nature will boost your confidence, self esteem & creativity.
Spending time in nature has also been found to have a strong correlation with life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness, and lower cognitive anxiety.
And on a professional level, it even improves our memory, efficiency & productivity.
Nature really is the full package when it comes to helping us feel good!
So it’s all sounding pretty easy right?
According to David Strayer, a psychologist at the University of Utah, there’s one trick, which is to be in nature, noticing nature, not playing on our phones. Do you think you can handle that?
Nature is one of my favourite happiness tools. It’s simple and it’s free, but it’s also kind of going out of fashion. As a society in general, the busier we get, the less time we spend outdoors. And that’s why we decided to share this tool with a group of students from Yeppoon State High School recently.
We packaged it up into a project called ‘Me & Nature’ which saw the students learning how to make films while interacting with nature. After learning some basic film techniques, they were asked to go into nature and explore their senses, capturing on film what they could see, hear, feel & smell.
We were hoping to get the kids excited about nature. We wanted to plant a little seed in them that would stay in their awareness forever, reminding them that spending time outside does wonders and can help them through times of challenge.
So how did we go? Well along with delivering some jaw dropping nature footage, the teenagers talked about how relaxed it made them feel, how free and happy they are when they are outside. Do they want to spend more time outside now? Yes they do! Success!
So… are you ready for more nature in your life? Here are some ideas to get you started:
Take a walk, and slow down. Notice the tiny details around you. Are there flowers? Are there insects?
Try cloud watching. What shapes can you see in the clouds?
Take time to actually smell the flowers
Walk barefoot on grass or sand
'Me & Nature' is proudly supported by Livingstone Shire Council through the Placemaking program, and CQUniversity. The footage shot by the students as part of this project will be publicly screened in Yeppoon very soon... so keep an eye out!