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April 6, 2021

My Relationship With Nature And How It Helps My Mental Health

Colin Hayward

The sun shines brightly through tall trees in a forest.

When I Am Feeling Down, I Go Outside

I have always known that heading outdoors, being active, moving my body, and changing my scenery are good for my mental health. Like many other people, I often feel recharged after being out in nature in a way that is hard to replicate and I have often wondered why that is.

Some of it seems very simple – moving our bodies is good for our physical and our mental health. Just walking, biking, hiking are wonderful stress relievers and have innumerable positive effects. There is also increasing research showing that being in natural environments is inherently good for us. The practice of forest bathing is gaining popularity.

I particularly like challenging myself to climb up mountains, either on foot or by bicycle. There is something special about the sense of accomplishment and awe when I look out over a valley to see where I have just come from. In those landscapes I enjoy the experience of how small we are but how far we can come if we put our mind (and legs) to it.

I also like the metaphors and symbolism that come from nature. There are always wonderful lessons to be learned from interacting with other beings that are so different from us and environments that are less dominated by humans. The other day I spoke with a client and we talked about the metaphor of spring floods as a time of upheaval and change; sometimes it even seeps right up out of the ground and takes over the landscape. Even when we cannot see it, it is still underground, shifting and changing the earth, waiting for the chance to come to the surface. This is a wonderful metaphor for how change can happen – it can be sudden and catastrophic or it can be underground and unseen, but no less powerful for it.

Still, there is an even deeper connection for me. I strongly believe that we are part of a community that encompasses all of the beings of the Earth. This is a philosophical and spiritual belief of mine that forms a core of my worldview and how I derive meaning from my life. Part of what I do with my clients is help them uncover the meaning that exists in their own lives and how they can nourish and grow that sense of purpose and significance for themselves.

This is one of the reasons that I like to ask my clients about their interests, hobbies, and inspirations. I think it offers me as a therapist a lot of insight into how we are already helping ourselves move in the right directions. Much of what I do is building on skills, strengths, and relationships that are already working for my clients and actively sharing them helps reinforce their positive effects.

Asking about what we love also begins the conversation about meaning that is different for each of us based on our own experiences and values. While I find great meaning in hiking up a mountain and taking in the view afforded by my effort, others might look to other aspects of their lives – profession, family, passions and goals as their doorways into meaning.

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