60 minutes of mental health in the time of covid-19 and how nature can help carry us through.
As I sit here and write this, I am feeling very anxious about the world. Anxious about money, anxious about job losses of close friends and South Africans at large. I know that I speak for many people when I say that this pandemic has taken a huge a toll on the mental and emotional health of the world at large.
I am an anxious person, that has been true my entire life, but there has always been one area of solace that I find myself returning to again and again. When my anxiety peaks, the only thing that really calms my senses is retreating in to nature. Ever since I was a young child, nothing has brought me more joy or peace than heading out into wild spaces to clear my mind. Whilst a walk along the beach or in a forest always leaves me with a feeling of serenity, encountering an animal or bird of any kind is the ultimate escape from the “human world” and all the problems that come with our fast-paced lifestyles.
I am not alone in this, and in recent decades there has been a movement to investigate the impacts of nature on our health and overall wellbeing. People are coming to realize that spending more time in nature leads to a happier, healthier life. Most of our days are spent in air conditioned offices and the concrete jungle, with lockdown exacerbating this. Many of us (myself included) turned to tv and social media as a form of escape because we were simply not allowed to leave the house. During this time, I was really reminded of just how much I have come to rely on nature for my well-being. In this article, I thought I might share some of the positive effects that spending time out in nature can have on your life, as well as some ways to start spending more time outside.
A quick search on google on the topic of nature and its benefits reveals numerous studies done throughout the years. A study done by the University Of Derby in the U.K asked people to do something “wild” everyday for 30 days and their results were astounding. Many participants saw such great benefit in the challenge that they continued on with these “wild” activities after the initial month was over. Reporting that by feeling more connected to the natural world around them, they were in better health and happier than before taking part in the challenge.
Spending time in nature has also been seen to have a calming effect on those with ADHD, Anxiety and even PTSD. Some studies show that as humans, we naturally gravitate towards the outdoors when we are feeling stressed out. Being captivated by a beautiful landscape or animal sighting, being fully in the moment, is a form of mindfulness which can help us when we are feeling anxious or even in pain. There is evidence that Scuba diving can help those suffering with chronic pain and the concept of “Blue Mind” explores how those who live, work and play near water are soothed and healed by it. Hospitals and even office buildings are starting to understand that by including green space into their design, they can help to reduce the risk of issues such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
To me, this overwhelming evidence speaks to the fact that we should be spending more time outside, “rewilding” ourselves and connecting with the ecosystems around us. The concept of the ecological self in which we see ourselves as part of the ecosystem and not above it can help us to improve our own lives, but it can also prompt us into living in a way that is more sustainable for our planet. In my own experience, I find that the closer I am to nature and the more in tune I am with what is happening in the eco system around me, the calmer I am.
So how do we get back to nature and reap the full benefits of what it has to offer us? This article recommends spending at least 2 hours in nature a week. Perhaps that is a change from morning coffee inside to having your first cup in your garden, or choosing a hike instead of a movie on a Saturday. Forest bathing is a great way to foster a closer connection with the environment, by simply starting to fully immerse yourself in the experience of being out in “the wild”. Kayaking, diving, paddle boarding, bird watching and rock climbing are just some of the ways you can spend more time outside in the sun, but the options are endless and I would really recommend choosing outdoor activities that choose you genuine joy, even if it is simply sitting on a patch of grass and watching the world go by.
I really hope that this article has inspired you to get out and get dirty this Mandela day.
To learn more about how connecting to nature can benefit you, I’d highly recommend the following reading (none of which is sponsored content):