“If we want to improve our health and well-being as a species, there’s no substitute for being in nature.” (Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle)
In our hectic, harried world, we’re all just looking for a little bit of peace. It turns out, we need not look further than our own backyard according to a growing body of research that confirms that time spent in nature can improve our self-esteem and mood and induce a sense of awe and wonder.
The Church of the Outdoors
Peace, awe, wonder, and connection are often associated with religion and spirituality. While some people experience a deep sense of connection in church, many others experience those same feelings in the original “church”—nature. Sadly, our connection to the outdoors continues to diminish. In fact, Richard Louv has dubbed our growing disconnection to the natural environment as “nature-deficit disorder.”
But is nature really all that important to our wellbeing? In a word, yes.
The Nature Connection
New research indicates that time spent in nature is more than therapeutic—it’s necessary. Researchers from Arizona State University have found that time spent in nature creates a sense of connectedness and inspires a sense of awe. The value of the sense of awe is that it tends to direct attention away from the self and toward the environment. This produces a calming effect and helps make everyday stress and anxieties feel more manageable.
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In another study, researchers from the University of Essex found that individuals who exercised outdoors—or spent as few as five minutes of activity in a natural setting—experienced improved self-esteem and mood. Any type of green environment improved self-esteem and mood, but the presence of water increased the effects. The improvements were seen across gender and age groups, but the largest improvement was seen in individuals with mental illness.
Take the Nature Prescription
If you’re searching for a sense of peace and connection, get thee outside. The sights, sounds, and smells of nature are soothing to the senses. Spending time near a babbling brook or rustling trees can promote a deep sense of relaxation, which allows the mind to wander and recharge.
Even if you’re not an outdoor enthusiast or if you live in a concrete jungle, there are still ways to connect with nature:
- Visit an urban park. Read, take a picnic, or simply sit on a bench and breathe.
- Dig in the dirt. If you don’t have space for a large garden, even small container gardens can provide a sense of connection to nature.
- Walk along a river or creek. Even the most urban areas typically have short nature paths scattered throughout town.
- Climb a tree. You’ll feel a long-forgotten sense of childlike wonder.
- Take your workout outdoors. Running along a busy urban sidewalk will still provide more of a nature connection than the treadmill at the gym.
- Sit outside. Eat dinner on the porch. Drink your morning coffee in the backyard. Spend time outside soaking up the natural light.
- Shiota M, Keltner D, Mossman A. The nautre of awe: Elicitors, appraisals, and effects on self-concept. Cognition and Emotion. 2007; 21(5) 944-963.
- Barton J, Pretty J. What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science and Technology. 2010; 44(10): 3947-55.