A woman's hand holding out a book along a gravel trail

While it may seem trite or obvious that nature is good for us, the benefits of nature on our mental wellness are infinite. There’s something so poetic and Thoreau about it, of course. We all love a bucolic moment—visualizing ourselves milking the cow and leisurely running our hands through a wheat field. But how do we, the suburban and city folk, really benefit from nature? 

After 2020 and transitioning back into a faster pace of life in 2021, it is possible that you may be feeling weary. We’ve overcome the trappings and the drawbacks of a year of the “new normal” and are walking a path now that is perhaps ambivalent and unknown. We are all finding our footing again. Last year, we were inside more than ever, and now as we return to the hustle of our “new normal,” it can be harder to find time to simply take a walk in the woods. 

So this, my friends, is where we begin. 

A walk in the woods is a lovely place to start, but what if we don’t have the woods? I know in suburban Southern California that I do not have any sort of woodland nearby. However, hills will work. Hiking paths, trails, a small yard or public park, they all work. 

If there’s nothing nearby, then I encourage you to familiarize yourself with what is close and accessible to hike or visit. There are urban farms and even many fairgrounds have botanical gardens or large grass lots where you can picnic. If nature isn’t convenient, please do not let that deter you. Find a way to access your own little piece of the great outdoors and bring it into your fold.

Find a way to access your own little piece of the great outdoors and bring it into your fold.

Here are a few practical tools on how to use nature to counteract your weariness:

1. Train your brain to crave the outdoors.

Just like exercise and coffee, which you’ve told your brain to do each morning, add going outside to your daily routine. After a while (it takes 21 days to build a habit), it’ll be second nature (pun intended). 

When you start to feel unrest, anxiety, sadness, the 2 p.m. slump or even the itch to “doom scroll” your Instagram, instead go outside. Sit with the sun on your face. Feel and smell the grass. Walk slowly enjoying any trees, shrubs and flowers that are along your path.

Sit with the sun on your face. Feel and smell the grass.

2. Soil makes us happy.

It’s been scientifically proven that gardening reduces anxiety and depression. How? Soil contains microbes that when inhaled, mimic what serotonin does to our brains. What?! I know, it’s wild. 

Gardening, and literally digging in the dirt, increases happiness and relaxation while decreasing feelings of dissatisfaction. Place yourself in the way of good things and find a way to garden if you can. Perhaps, a small 2 x 4 ft. raised bed would fit on your patio, or find a community garden that you can become involved in!

3. Learn to rest, not quit.

When you’re weary and rundown, it’s common to want to throw in the towel on whatever is ailing you, whether that be relationships, jobs, projects, etc. Nothing is safe. Instead, rest and then reevaluate. I’m not talking about a 20-minute power nap where you awake to an alarm and remain groggy all day. I’m talking about active rest in nature.

Nature has a revitalizing effect on us because it entertains us while allowing us to escape mentally. It turns off the active thinking brain and allows the subconscious to take over a bit. Similar to meditation, being in nature allows the neural pathways in your brain to rebuild and heal. It changes up your environment and introduces calm. This is necessary for our bodies and brains, and it allows our cells to repair and, in turn, keeps us healthy, rested, happy and moving. 

Everyday wonder and miracles abound in nature. Seeds self-sow. Colors emerge that have never before been seen. Plants create medicine that heals us. Being in mere proximity to that kind of wonder will revive your weary soul. After all, we’re simply atoms and dust ourselves, belonging quite perfectly amongst the ferns and flowers. 

Everyday wonder and miracles abound in nature.

For absolutely no reason whatsoever other than your own joy, today go be in nature. See for yourself the difference in how you feel. 

How often do you intentionally spend time in nature? How do you feel after time spent outside?

Image via Zoe Lea

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