Take a Dose of Nature and Call Me in the Morning

I eat kale, visit the gym five or six days a week, and take a handful of vitamins each morning. I purposely take a positive approach to stressful situations and practice mindfulness daily.

But, honestly, I feel my best when I’m soaking in nature.

As the sun warms my face and fleeting breezes tousle my hair, I’m truly relaxed. Taking a deep breath of forest air or watching my dogs dip their feet in a pond is instantly calming and restorative. When I’m outdoors, surrounded by the beauty of my local parks or the rural landscape of Iowa, I simply feel happy.

Studying Nature and Health

Exposing ourselves to nature is priceless for our state of mind. Research from Stanford University in California discovered that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area with oak trees and shrubs “showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.” Exposure to natural settings had a positive effect on mood, memory, and cognitive function, and also decreased anxiety.

The study concludes that access to natural areas is essential for mental health, especially in an increasingly industrialized world. The researchers noted that people living in urban environments have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders, a 50 percent higher risk of developing schizophrenia, and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders when compared to rural residents.

Making Time for Nature

This evening, the hubby and I are taking our dogs to the park for our first spring picnic. We’ve planned this outing as a way to reduce stress before one of our pets has surgery tomorrow.

We try to make spending time outside a priority. Most days, after dinner we take the dogs for a walk around our neighborhood, which is studded with 100-year-old maple trees and beautifully restored Victorian homes. Or we pile in the Jeep and explore the nature trails at the local state park.

Bringing Nature to You

If you live and work in a city, increase your exposure to the mind-calming aspects of nature. Arrange your space so windows become focal points, add potted trees and plants, grow aromatic herbs, spend a lunch break walking in a local park or landscaped business campus, hang pictures of serene landscapes, or simply close your eyes and envision a tranquil mountain view to clear your mind.

The University of Washington’s College of the Environment says encounters with nature restore the mind by alleviating mental fatigue and stress. Green elements also encourage inspiration, inquisitiveness, and learning. For children, access to nature inspires creativity, intellectual development, and social relationship building.

As I type this, I’m looking around my office. I hear my tortoises digging in the wood mulch in their tank. I see my vining philodendron taking over the window and decide my office needs more natural elements. Next time I shop for garden supplies, I’m going to splurge on potted plants for inside my home, too. We can all use more nature in our lives.

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