Connecting Nature to Your Mental Health

To find dominate beauty in art, literature, NATURE and friendships. I remember the first time I heard this line from our creed. It spoke directly to me. For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep love for all animals and nature. I remember my senior year in high school when my literacy teacher introduced us to Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau, finally some authors who put my feelings into words. I am most at peace when surrounded by the beauty of nature.

When the world was asked to go into isolation many of us took to binging Netflix and putting together jigsaw puzzles. After the walls began to close in, we began to venture outside and do the one thing they could do at a distance from others: enjoy nature. Suddenly terms like “forest bathing” and “grounding” or “earthing” have come envogue. These are not new practices, but for many they were. Taking the time to connect to nature, instead of just quickly traveling through it in a car or on a bike. Taking the time to actually walk barefoot in the grass is something that many people haven’t done since they were a child; some never at all depending on where they grew up. Instead of rushing through a hike to get exercise, we learned to slow down a bit and look around. After all, there was nothing to rush home to do. We took time to listen to the wind rustle the leaves in the trees. Hear the birds chirping, the squirrel scurrying up the tree while it scolds us for being in its territory. We slowed down and began to appreciate what was all around us that we never took the time to notice. As a result, whether we realized it or not, those moments helped to improve our mental health.

I could bore you with all the research and statistics about how spending time in nature improves your well-being and mental health (because I am a science nerd at heart), but I don’t have to. Go experience it for yourself – take a walk or just sit in a place away from the traffic and chaos of everyday life. Spend some time just listening and observing the beauty around you. Put the phone away…ok, snap a couple pictures of what you see, but really, put it away, disconnect and appreciate what is around you. Try to do it every day or at least a few times a week.

A lot of people think I am crazy because I get up so early, but for me there is nothing better than watching the sunrise on a walk in the peace of morning. My dogs and I like to start our walks just before the sunrise, except in the winter when it’s too icy and cold. It is the quietest time of the day.  When we begin, we often see bats swooping at high speeds trying to catch their last few insects before they head to bed. Shortly after that, we often catch a glimpse of a Red-Tailed Hawk soaring by, or see the local Copper’s Hawk perched up at the top of the tree crying out. Then the songbirds begin their morning routines of singing out to each other, followed by a beautiful sunrise as we arrive back home. Some mornings we have been lucky enough to hear and then see a Great Horned Owl. Every now and again, we encounter the fox who lives in the area, or on even more rare occasions catch a glimpse of a lone coyote or a few raccoons. All of these things center me and set a positive tone for my day. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”

A lot of us have gone back to “normal” life; rushing around, not taking time for ourselves. I hate to think we went through something as life-altering as this pandemic and made no changes as a result of it. Take the time to disconnect from your screens and do it for yourself, because you deserve it. Our Founders wrote some pretty powerful words in our creed that are timeless. Speaking of less screen time, the mountains are calling, and I must go.

Jen Reisner Burkhardt, ΓΜ

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