Artist Andy Goldswoorthy once said, “We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”
The prevailing Western conception of nature is of something separate from human beings and there is a long colonial history associated with the divergence between humans and nature. What’s more, research suggests that this divergence has negative consequences for health and well-being.
In our vastly disconnected modern world, many people enter therapy in the hopes of connecting with themselves. And while therapy is an important step in the process of connecting with oneself, as long as we are estranged from and acting destructively towards the land, we are disconnected from and harming an aspect of ourselves.
Nature, Health, and Well-Being
Connecting with the natural world is essential for well-being. Spending time in nature is associated with positive health and wellbeing benefits.
Fascinating research has shown that simply viewing a natural setting through a window improved patients recovery from a medical procedure. The same results were found by adding a live plant to a hospital room. These are exciting discoveries because it tells us that the health and well-being benefits of nature go beyond the benefits of exercise which is often a part of spending time outdoors, or other factors such as sunlight or fresh air. What these results tell us is that there is something inherent in nature (or natural spaces) that has restorative and healing benefits.
Being outdoors and spending time in nature can decrease symptoms of stress, anxiety, and isolation, and improve cognitive processes. Spending just 30 minutes in a natural environment a few times a week can have a lasting impact on well-being. You do not need to go on a wilderness adventure to experience the benefits of nature, but rather, a walk in your neighbourhood, or a visit to the local park are great ways to get outdoors.
Disparities in Accessing the Therapeutic Benefits of Nature
Sadly, connecting with nature may be more difficult for some than others. The outdoor spaces in the United States are entangled with a racist and colonial history of indigenous communities being forced out of their homes and the outdoors has been the backdrop of slaverly and racial violence.
Moreover, today the outdoor industry greatly lacks diversity and representation, and there are many barriers to outdoor recreation, such as the costs of transportation and gear. When discussing the mental health benefits of connecting with nature, it is important to recognize that the outdoors is not yet a safe or inclusive space for everyone.
There are many ways to make the outdoors safe and inclusive for all. For example, it is important to support organizations that provide opportunities, resources, and outdoor education to communities that are underserved. For example, Memphis Roxs is a climbing gym and community in Memphis in a primarily Black neighborhood that offers access to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay for a membership. Donating to or volunteering at an organization like Memphis Roxs helps provide a unique opportunity for many people who would not otherwise have the means to experience this sport. To learn more and support Memphis Roxs, click here.
Alongside supporting programs and organizations like Memphis Roxs, we must also be welcoming to new faces in outdoor space. Oftentimes in the outdoor industry there is a collective mindset that spaces should be kept secret for the “locals” and that people should not be recreating outdoors if they do not have top of the line outdoor gear.
This mindset creates an outdoor culture that is unwelcoming. Rather than keeping the spaces exclusive for a select few, share information with new visitors on how they can enjoy the spaces safely and respectfully. Be kind and helpful to everyone, regardless of their gear or their skill level.
As we all navigate the ongoing pandemic lock downs, being in nature is a safe and responsible way to spend time away from your home. Ultimately, the outdoors can be a space for healing. There are so many little ways to engage with the natural world from planting a garden, to walking in your local park. Challenge yourself to spend 30 minutes outdoors today and pay attention to how it makes you feel.
Of course, if you’d like accountability in making positive life changes — like increasing the amount of time you spend in nature — we’re happy to help. California Women’s Therapy is currently accepting new clients for virtual psychotherapy. Learn more by visiting www.CaliforniaWomensTherapy.com
This blog was written by Rachel Lansman, an intern at California Women’s Therapy.