How Spending Time In Nature Benefits Your Mental & Physical Health

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woman enjoying benefits of nature
Health And Wellness

During this time of isolation, there are less opportunities for meetups, gatherings and all kinds of activities you would normally engage in.

For many, travel has been out of the question, even though a little "ecopsychology" — that is, spending time outdoors to get the spiritual, mental, and health benefits of nature — is more important than ever.

The faces of your fellow household members have become increasingly familiar — perhaps too familiar. Social Zoom meetings have their limits and have proven to be tiresome, if done too frequently.

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If you're lucky, you've discovered some special places outdoors that seem immune to this lengthened land of quarantine

Ecopsychology and getting connected to the natural world.

Perhaps you have held in your mind that someday, you'd get a little more connected to the natural world. You would finally know a bit more about it, and even do some things to protect it.

Well, that time is now.

The Earth, in its multitude of environmental issues caused by humans, is ready for us to become intimate and knowledgeable of its workings, needs, and beauty.

To protect and preserve, you need to be in relation with nature, so you know the importance beyond just the theoretical. Intimacy brings an authentic relationship that forms a bond of mutuality.

There are many benefits of nature found in developing intimacy with the Earth.

Getting outside gives you exercise, and much needed fresh air to expand and nourish your lungs. It has been proven that beyond physical health, walking and getting outside can serve as a natural anti-depressant with no side effects — meaning it improves your emotional regulation and mood.

The early conservationist and writer John Muir said, “Going out, I found, is really going in.”

When you practice ecopsychology and spend more time in the great outdoors, you become more connected to yourself, your innermost thoughts, and your inner landscape. You may no longer feel consumed by a problem, but actually find a solution.

When I started working from home, I took occasional walks outside, and I started to notice things I'd never noticed before. I began to look around at the world, and it was odd to realize what an alien I had been, walking over this land preoccupied with my own life.

There were endless creatures all around, part of a unique web I had no idea about. How did I fit in? It was time to begin truly seeing, listening, and learning. The pandemic, emptying me out from usual distractions, made space for this.

There are literally a million entry points into this intimacy with nature!

Here are 7 ways you can practice ecopsychology and reap the many benefits of nature today.

1. Find a good outdoor place.

Of course, you'd love to steep yourself in the wildness of national parks, but it’s not always possible. The beauty of nature is that it fills the void and grows in even the most unlikely places — cracks in the sidewalks and neighbors’ neglected yards.

Do you know what’s growing in your yard? Your neighborhood? What’s that tree called that you see every day? You may have just met a new neighbor friend that you can say "hi" to from now on!

2. Get curious about plants and animals.

As you encounter plants and animals on your journeys outside, welcome the curiosity that comes to your mind. What do those ground squirrels like to eat? Do they really collect nuts for winter? What are they up to right now?

Knowing what the animals eat opens the door for understanding the intricate web of local life. Consider keeping a journal that details each creature you discover as you go. Have a goal of one a day or week — whatever works for your schedule.

Your journal may contain drawings, pressed plant leaves and flowers, as well as the research that you discover.

3. Learn about the tribes and indigenous people who lived in your area first.

While walking nearby the other day, I noticed the park’s placement of information plaques with useful facts. Before, I always just zoomed by while on my bike. But I decided to take a closer look.

On the plaque was the name of original inhabitants of the land I lived on — the Aramai — a tribe of the Ohlone who existed here for over 3,000 years. I learned how they used the native Arroyo Willow for medicine, thatched houses, and baskets.

Learning how the original natives lived on the land can awaken your knowledge of the many plant and animal species, as well. To build your own intimacy with nature is a way to honor and respect the original inhabitants. Many still exist today in the same areas of their ancestry.

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4. Use tools to explore your world.

A few tools can help make your newfound intimacy exploration come alive. The camera on your phone can capture the beauty of newfound discoveries without having to touch or disturb the specimen.

Binoculars, particularly for my near-sighted eyes, can bring the flight of a bird and its unique character close enough for me to view in exquisite detail.

A guidebook or app can help you to identify the things you get curious about and quickly pinpoint the species of plants or animals. A quick search on the internet can also do the trick.

Having trouble getting outdoors in the first place? I find a naturally-themed deck of cards can help spur your interest, like a scavenger hunt.

5. Awaken your spirituality.

Spirituality is a vital aspect of your experience as a human in a universe massive in scope and full of mystery. Nature can ground your spiritual connection and make it visible to you in your daily life.

The workings of nature are autonomous and happen independently from you. Yet, your experiences can reveal your own nature in meaningful ways. Aligning your life with the rhythms of nature can help you feel woven into a universal fabric larger than your own making or understanding.

Become aware of the moment of when dawn arises and when the sun sets. What is the exact middle place in-between? When is the moon full and new? How does it affect the tides?

Which way is each direction from your house? How are the classic four elements showing up in this moment — earth, air, fire, and water?

6. Learn "augury," the art of nature divination.

I have always thought myself to be fairly familiar with all forms of divination — from tarot cards and runes to the I Ching, and even cowry shells from West Africa.

In my recent studies of nature and spirituality, however, I have stumbled upon "augury" — the reading of signs and omens in one’s environment. This may be the numbers or flight patterns of birds, or the colors and forms found in the natural landscape.

Though I am not prone to superstition, learning how ancient societies “read” nature can pull you into a different, more intimate dialogue with your surroundings.

7. Give back to nature.

You get so much from nature. You're fed from its fruits and oxygenated by its trees and plants. You're held by its firm foundation. As you deepen your intimacy with nature, finding ways to give back will help you feel even more connected.

This may take a different form for each person, but what's important is to find your personal way to give. This isn’t about guilt-tripping you to recycle or drive less. It’s about giving something back that helps you to truly feel a mutual relationship between you and the Earth.

For me, that means bringing a bag on every walk. When I see a piece of trash, I pick it up! It gives me so much to see the beautiful place I live look a bit better — and for one less piece of plastic to head to poison an animal belly or pollute the ocean's current.

Perhaps the ideas above have sparked your own calling to explore and relate in the outside world. I hope you can find a space of timelessness and open discovery as you head out on your adventures.

When exciting or interesting encounters happen out there, tell your stories to friends and neighbors — they may just wish to join in this new neighborhood discovery!

RELATED: 5 Easy Ways To Reconnect With Nature & Improve Your Wellbeing

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Cyndera Quackenbush, MA, is an author, speaker, and educator in the Bay Area, California who wants to help you uncover your purpose in life. For more information about how she can help you, visit her website here.