May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we can all learn a lesson about mental health from the wisdom of author and naturalist, John Burroughs (1837-1921). Burroughs wrote in his book, Studies in Nature and Literature, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” And putting one’s senses in order by connecting with nature is something the people behind Mental Health America (MHA) strongly advocate.
The organization notes, “spending time in nature is linked to many positive mental health outcomes,” and studies support that observation. Researchers at The Greater Good Science Center at the UC Berkeley note:
Over 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. In particular, viewing nature seems to be inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of position emotions and calming our nervous systems. These in turn help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, and resilience.
Whether one lives in an urban setting, or on a vast piece of property, there are so many ways one can connect with nature.
Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center offers what it calls Greater Good in Action. One of those prescribed actions is a practice called Noticing Nature. The practice calls for paying attention to nature for 5-15 minutes a day. If you notice something which “evokes a strong emotion in you, that moves you in some way, take a photo of it.” That photo could be uploaded to your phone, or desktop allowing one to reconnect with the emotion.
Community gardens allow people to not only grow food, but to connect with others in their neighborhoods. The site seedmoney.org provides a how-to on ways to start a community garden. The organization says it has built an “online community of 20,000 gardeners from over 100 countries,” so there are many seasoned hands to help with your journey.
Being in nature can include walking in local parks, or even in your neighborhood. MHA notes even sitting under a tree and just listening to and observing nature can make one feel better. Bringing nature indoors can calm us. Whether it’s flowers, or twigs, shells or rocks, anything which makes one feel connected to the outside world is a step towards improving one’s mental health.
And on June 4, 2023, Good Grief invites you to get outdoors and join the community of people who will participate in our annual 5K Walk and Run. The event will be held at St. Elizabeth University in Morristown, NJ. The 5K helps raise funds to continue the work of Good Grief volunteers at the Morristown and Princeton locations; but it is also a chance to be outdoors and moving with a community of supportive people. Registration closes May 31st. For more information, go to https://good-grief.org/5k/