I’ve been going outside a lot lately. I love the feel of the sun on my skin, the sounds of birds and rustling leaves as a breeze dances through, and the sight of green trees and plants. I enjoy walking and just taking it all in. It’s a way I like to practice mindfulness—being fully present in the moment and observing with curiosity. Some stressful things have happened in my life recently, and going out for a walk to immerse myself in nature is one of my favorite ways to take care of myself.
Research shows that being in nature supports mental health. Even 10 minutes outdoors can regulate the nervous system, particularly if those 10 minutes are enjoyed mindfully. Being in touch with nature can look like so many different things: camping, hiking, walking, sitting outside, watching a sunset, stargazing, gardening, or even keeping a houseplant or two (or, if you’re like me, several). I invite you to explore and find out how you enjoy being in nature. For times when being in nature isn’t an option, a view of the outdoors from a window, or even looking at pictures of nature can have a positive impact on well-being. This video has a humorous take on nature as a prescription.
As humans, we are a part of nature—not separate from it. Being in nature reminds me of this interconnectedness. When I’m outside and being present with intention, I’m able to tune into myself and really listen to what’s going on inside of me. It’s a way to bring in a sense of calm, and it has a way of reminding me what’s really important in life. It’s centering. So, when I connect with nature, I’m also connecting with myself. It’s a chance to slow down, to just be, and to find wonder, joy, and rest.
I’m not always by myself when I enjoy nature. I love spending time outdoors with others, too. My husband and I enjoy walks together, and we have a camping trip planned with some friends later this summer. Picnics are another way we enjoy the outdoors with friends. With Memorial Day coming up, I think of backyard barbecues and how eating outside is often a feature of warmer months. You can even enjoy getting outside to forage for food! (For more on foraging, I recommend checking out the Ologies episode on Foraging Ecology with Alexis Nikole Nelson. Through foraging, we can be reminded of how nature supports our physical health as well as our mental health. Just please make sure you know that what you’re foraging is safe for human consumption. You can learn from experienced foragers and in the process build new relationships.
We also have the opportunity to learn from Indigenous peoples about nature and how it supports overall well-being. I’m currently reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Kimmerer’s writing has helped me to see ways that nature provides for and nourishes us as individuals and communities. I often feel like going outside after reading a chapter, and maybe this kind of book will have a similar effect for you!
So I invite you to go outside (even for just a few minutes) and reflect on what you’re taking in through your senses. No matter how you enjoy nature, remember that you’re caring for your mental health in the process. You just might find that in connecting with nature, you feel more connected with yourself.