When was the last time you got to really spend some time outside? Have you been able to go for a nice walk lately? Maybe you live close to the ocean or a lake. Could you go for a swim? We’ve all enjoyed the renewal that can come from being out in nature, soaking up some sunshine, listening to the sound of the breeze blowing through tree branches, feeling the crash of waves on the beach.
Spending time in nature can have a strong and lasting impact on our well-being, and making your way outside can be a good way to progress on your healing journey. One study reminds us that “our relationships with nature are fundamental components of building and sustaining good health.”1 There are all sorts of benefits that can come from a little outdoor time.
The benefits of spending time in nature
For example, many survivors of childhood sexual abuse struggle with anxiety and depression, and it turns out that spending some time out in nature can help in dealing with these challenges. A 2015 study found that “people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting, such as a forest or a nature park . . . had lower brain activity in an area of the brain linked to depression.”2 You might be thinking that walking anywhere would have the same effect, but it turns out that where you walk can make a difference. Another study showed that people who walked in the forest for 40 minutes had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than people who spent 40 minutes walking on a treadmill.2 Nature seems to have a special healing power.
Connections to the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope
Spending some quality time in nature can easily be combined with the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope. One of the strategies, Awareness, focuses on helping you become more grounded in the present moment. Being in nature provides a perfect opportunity to practice living in the now as you can engage multiple senses. If you’re on a walk in a park, in addition to what you see, pay attention to what you smell and hear. Are there flowers releasing their fragrance into the air? Are there birds singing? Maybe touch the bark on a tree to involve your sense of touch.
Another strategy, Mindfulness, can give you the power to choose what to focus on, another skill you can practice when you’re in nature. When your mind becomes overactive, you can gently say to yourself, “Okay, mind, right now I’m spending time outside, and I’m going to focus on the things I see, hear, and smell.” Being in nature will give you something to redirect your attention to. In fact, we have a blog all about mindful walking that offers some suggestions you can use when you’re out in nature.
What can you do today?
Summer is one of the most beautiful times of the year. It’s fun and easy to spend time outside. However, you decide to spend time in nature, remember that you’re doing it for you. You’re not in a competition, and you don’t need to compare your experiences to anyone else’s: “There is no distance marker to tick off, no pedometer to check, but the longer one devotes to [nature], the more beneficial a relationship can be built.”3 Try to find one activity that is accessible and appealing to you.
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