“Trees exhale for us so that we can inhale them to stay alive. Can we ever forget that? Let us love trees with every break we take until we perish.”
It has now been 100+ days since the quarantine in Ontario, Canada began.
Before, I found the beginning of quarantine to be a breeze; staying inside, solely entertaining myself. But as the weeks turned into months, I began to understand that life was not exactly going be exactly the same. I found myself unmotivated to get out of bed at a consistent time. I was constantly tired and yawning throughout the day, no matter how much sleep I got. I felt zoned out and unfocused with every task I attempted to complete. It was like I was having my symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder… but in the middle of summer.
I was sick of that feeling. So one day, I did the unthinkable. I put on my running shoes and went out to go for a walk. Before I left, my mother looked at me confused. “You’re going out for a walk?” I said yes. She started to laugh and said: “EVERYONE LOOK! DANIELLE IS LEAVING THE HOUSE!”
I’m not going to lie – I’m a homebody, so I really don’t leave the house that often. But I was truly amazed at how I felt after just taking a simple 15-minute walk outside. I have the privilege of living quite close to Lake Ontario and there was something about the fresh air and the sounds of the waves that made it feel like my head was clear again. I wasn’t going to let this feeling pass. Since then, I’ve added a short walk to my daily routine and I truly feel like I have improved my quality of life, just by going outside.
The effect nature has on personal mental health is real, and I’m going to expand more about the connection between nature and well-being, and also give you a few tips in incorporating nature in life amidst the pandemic.
Photo by Danielle Lim – A walk along Lake Ontario with my brother.
Nature and Your Brain
When you go outside on a hike, surrounded by towering trees, it is no coincidence that there is this overwhelming feeling of clarity and peace. There are mountains of research focusing on that impact nature and plants have on human mental health. Mental health is more important than ever as 1 in 5 Canadians have some form of mental illness. In these unprecedented times especially, anxieties and fears have been heightened. However, research has shown that nature can be a key player in how we can combat these feelings.
Statistics show that mental disorders are 38% more common in urban areas than in rural ones. However, it is proven that natural environments can boost a person’s sense of well-being, as well as their mood. In a research study done by Stanford University, participants were asked to take a 90-minute walk in the city, and others were asked to take 90 minutes on a path in a forest. The results found that participants who walked in a more natural area, compared to the ones who walked in the city, showcased decreased activity in the area of the brain that is associated with depression. Stanford is using this research to further inform people about the movement to make cities more “livable” via providing more green areas and space. It shows that nature should be more accessible to make people more mentally healthy.
But not everyone lives near a forest where it is easy to be able to immerse deeply into nature, but the effects of nature can be from subtle things. Holli-Anne Passmore, a researcher at UBC Okanagan said it best: “This wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness. This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people.” Here are some quick tips in how you can incorporate nature and better your mental health.
- Daily Walks – As mentioned before, but especially in times like these, a walk is better than staying at home.
- Getting plants/Gardening – Research has shown that psychologically, interacting with plants can improve mood and decrease levels of stress and anxiety! I have a lovely basil plant that I have made a ritual to water every day.
- Calm App – If you really can’t get anywhere close to nature, but you love calming sounds of rain, the beach, or a park, and also like meditation, this app is great. I personally use it mostly for the calming background noise for when I am studying or working.
- Chiropractor – Okay this is more of a bonus but sitting inside has honestly taken a toll on my body and I always recommend taking extra steps to take care of your body! When your body feels good, your brain feels good!
Let’s be realistic. Going outside and seeing some trees is not the cure to fixing mental health. However, the science is there which shows the connection between nature and our mental well-being. Now take a step outside and breathe in, and out. Find some green space and take a break from the screen. Taking one step is as good as any, and don’t forget to feel great in the process. Good luck.