By Lauren Salani, LCSW, BCB
It is uplifting to consider that through the challenges of quarantine, overbearing schedules, loss, and negativity - emotions can be positively affected by putting a little nature into our lives. New research by Elizabeth Neibert (2019) shows that even brief contact with the natural environment is important for human flourishing and well-being. When people feel connected with nature, they are more likely to spend time in it and, in turn, protect it. Getting back to nature doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy.
The ability for a small amount of natural environment to create positive emotion is demonstrated in a recent study by Elsadek (2019). 25 females, of about 23 years old, were asked to sit and view a green façade, or a building wall for 5 minutes. Biofeedback readings were generated using electro-encephalography, heart rate variability, and skin conductance measures, as well as, psychological measures for mood state. Researchers found that from just watching five minutes of the green wall (compared to the building wall) produced a significant increase in frontal and occipital lobe alpha waves, a significant increase in parasympathetic activity (feelings of relaxation and well-being), and a significant decrease in skin conductance which measures nervous system activity. The Mood State Profile revealed a substantial increase in comfortable, relaxed natural feelings, and a significant improvement in mood state.
Although, we do not know the mindfulness principles and ability to relax quickly on their own of the study participants, this study does reflect that as human beings we have been and continue to need connection to the natural world for our own sustainability. Eco-therapist/psychologist, Andy McGeeney, states that, “our separation from nature is no less a separation from our selves, leading to a sense of disconnection, loss and loneliness. This dis-ease with our selves can provide the foundations for mental distress and disorder.”
As we are facing very challenging times, negative emotion and a sense of disconnection can seem the norm. An introduction or re-connection to the natural world can help people recover from this distress. Eco-therapy is about creating a deeper connection to nature and feeling better for being in natural surroundings. One easy idea to be outside is to introduce mindfulness into a 20-minute walk. For maximum enjoyment, make sure you dress for the weather, being warm/cool enough, and have the proper footwear.
Walking Mindfulness Meditation:
2 minutes - If in a group, walk silently
5 minutes – Walking meditation aims to draw your attention to the present moment, as if you were experiencing it for the first time. When we have done something many times, the action becomes automatic. We no longer pay attention so our minds start to wander. So, during the next few minutes, walk like you were walking for the first time. Be curious about it, and focus your attention onto the process of walking as you lift, move and place your feet down. Focus on your body from the inside. You may repeat the word “walking” to keep you focused. If your attention wanders, just bring it back gently to “walking” and do not judge the experience.
After about 5 minutes, transfer the same attention to some aspect of your surroundings. It can be anything such as the air on your skin, how the sunlight dances on the trees or the water, the kind of sounds you hear, or the scent of the air. The goal is to encounter this aspect as you are experiencing it for the very first time. Whatever you choose, maintain your attention on it, observe it with curiosity and in detail, but do not judge its qualities. Do not think about “Oh, I like this, and do not like that” Remain an objective observer.
Finally, Relax your mind. Here, the goal will be to experience nature as you would for the first time, with a beginner’s mind. Become completely absorbed by imagining how walking, seeing hearing, and smelling nature would feel like for the first time. Allow all your senses to take in this experience from inside your body as it is immersed in its external surroundings, without judging qualities.
For those who choose not to go for a walk, consider your view from the windows. Is it green, natural and busy with birds? You can also bring nature indoors with greenery or put up pictures of the natural world that are awe inspiring. As there is color to every season, buy or collect natural objects on walks – pinecones, pebbles, pieces of bark, leaves – to create a nature table or windowsill. Even a window box, securely fastened, filled with greens in the winter and flowers and salad greens in the summer can make an attractive transition from home to garden. The store-bought faces of little woodland creatures made out of natural elements such as chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and fox can be of comfort and connection.
Sometimes, additional help is needed to deal with life’s difficulties effecting well-being. Stress and pain can be overwhelming and finding a path to deal may be easier with the assistance of a professional. Please feel free to call my office for a free telephone consultation on taking that next step towards wellness and optimal health. Lauren A. Salani, LCSW, BCB - Stress Relief Services, Atlantic Executive Center, 107 Monmouth Road, Suite 104, West Long Branch, NJ. 732.542.2638 visit StressReliefServices.com
Or email LaurenASalani@gmail.com