HOW TO RECONNECT WITH NATURE - THE MENTAL AND PHYSICAL BENEFITS WE CANNOT IGNORE.
Over 99% of our very existence has been founded on our ability hunt and gather. Today less than 5% of people understand the need to connect with nature and fewer understand the serious health consequences associated with not doing so.
It is only since the onset of the agricultural age some 10,000 years ago that we began domesticating our lands. In just a few generations, mostly within that of my grandparents to the present day, everything dramatically changed – and there can be little argument to say for the better.
“There is a wealth of research that illustrates how disconnection from nature is linked to mental and physical illness”
Society has become increasingly industrialised and urbanised, with most of us deeply disconnected from the natural world– I’m not going to get all Greta Thunberg on you, but right now might be the best time to adopt some ancestral norms and have a plan to reconnect to nature, no matter how small.
I am not suggesting we give up our luxuries, move into a cave and start eating our cats.
I am writing this from my heated office, padded chair with a coffee machine at my reach. I mention this, as someone whom is aware of the need, and yet somewhat living within a dominant worldview of ecological disconnection, I know we aren’t going to trade in our luxuries for caves, but keeping a close ‘connect’ will no doubt improve all of our ability to function ‘correctly’ and as intended.
Nature seen as a tool to serve us, naively I might add.
What do we mean exactly by ‘connection to nature’?
It’s the extent to which people see their position within the framework of their personalised meaning of ‘nature’, an inclusive and conscious effort, and an emotional connection towards the natural world. The ability to observe, appreciate and understand their impact on more than their immediate surroundings.
- It isn’t as extreme as finding an oak tree and giving it a hug.
With 90% of our time spent indoors we often fail to appreciate the benefits of … pausing for a moment… to feel the wind on our face, hear the birds sing or even seeing a star rich sky without the light pollution from the local city.
Why is this important?
Losing our natural cycles means to lose the path that has supported us for some 200,000 years. Most of the modern world, currently 77% but rapidly increasing, now live in urbanised environments, not directly relying on the immediate ecosystem but on complex and international system to provide for their daily needs.
There is a wealth of research that illustrates how disconnection from nature is linked to mental and physical illness, from anxiety, depression and heart disease, fatigue and lowered life expectancy to name but a few.
Nature-deficit disorder is a recognised condition in children, which has been identified as a contributor to obesity, depression, ADHD, behavioural problems and lowered cognitive ability. Communities that are disconnected from nature show higher levels of conflict, violence, crime and racial tension – whatever this means…
It might be worth noting the 2021 World Happiness Report, if you have a moment, look at the connection between the top and perhaps decide for yourself why this is the case.
On a societal level, a culture of disconnection feeds an alienated consumer culture and the continued over-exploitation of nature required to fuel it.
How do we reconnect?
It’s clear that an important part of reversing the trend of accelerating ecological disaster, we are heading towards, is reconnecting with nature. Where do we start? How do we reconnect? How long before we notice the difference within ourselves?
Getting outdoors into nature is an obvious starting point, and this will have immediate positive well-being and health effects. However, research shows that in order to really connect, we need intentional rather than passive interactions. A good starting point could be signing up for a Park Run, requiring the commitment to increase fitness, venture outdoors and with a purpose.
Here are some top tips on how you can build your own connection with nature:
Find nature wherever you are:
Nature is all around us. It might be a garden, a local park, a nearby beach or open countryside. Even in cities where nature can be harder to find, there’s things like community gardens or courtyards to discover and explore. Look out for the unexpected – an urban fox on your way out for the early shift, changes in the weather or birdsong outside your window. Try to notice nature wherever you are, in whatever way is meaningful for you.
Connect with nature using all of your senses:
Taking some quiet time to reflect in natural surroundings using all your senses can be a real boost to your mental health. Whether you’re relaxing in the garden or on your way to work, try listening out for birdsong, look for bees and butterflies, or notice the movement of the clouds. All of these good things in nature can help you to find a sense of calm and joy.
Get out into nature:
If you can, try to spend time visiting natural places - green spaces like parks, gardens or forests – or blue spaces like the beach, rivers and wetlands. This can help you reduce your risk of mental health problems, lift your mood and help you feel better about things. If it feels daunting to get outside, try going with a friend or relative, or picking somewhere familiar.
Bring nature to you:
Sometimes it’s hard to access natural places because of where you live, how busy you are, how safe you feel or your health. Why not try bringing nature into your home? Having plants in the house is a great way to have something natural to see, touch and smell – pots of herbs from the supermarket are a good start.
Exercise in nature:
If you're physically able to exercise, try to do it outside – whether it’s a run, cycle or a short walk. Walking or running outdoors in nature may help to prevent or reduce feelings of anger, tiredness and sadness, try new routes that bring you closer to green space or water.
Combine nature with creativity:
Try combining creativity with your natural environment. This could involve taking part in creative activities outside, like dance, music, or art. All of these things can help reduce stress and improve your mood. You could also increase your sense of connection by taking photos, writing, drawing or painting pictures of the landscape, plants or animals. Noticing the beauty of nature and expressing this creatively can help you find meaning and an emotional connection to nature that will stay with you for a lifetime.
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