Five Ways to Connect to Nature in 2018

merry chrismtas panaromic

Plott Balsam Mountain Range (North Carolina)

The new year is a fantastic time to rediscover how being in nature can help reduce stress and increase effectiveness. You do not have to make a large commitment of time, just block out some space in your schedule. Here are a few tips that I use to help stay connected to nature.

Develop a Plan Focused on Doing Things You Love

I like to spend time in nature by hiking, cycling, mountain biking, and kayaking, so I set goals in each of these areas to make sure I stay on track. It helps my physical fitness, and also my mental fitness. It is not about the numbers, but that helps me stay motivated. I had 1,300 miles in 2017, so I am aiming for 1,500 in 2018. My body, mind and spirit will thank me for every extra mile.

waterrock knob trail 2017

Sunset over Great Smoky Mountains National Park as seen from Waterrock Knob Trail (NC)

 

Make Room for Silence

We live in a noisy world. One way to escape the stress that this causes is to allow the silence available in nature to capture your attention. This is not only calming but serves to help restore your attention capacities. Find quiet places to go on a lunch break or for an after work stroll. When you have time for more extended trips, find places that are not near areas with lots of human created noises (eg, roads, airports, neighborhoods).

Reflect While You Are in Nature

Getting away from the things that cause stress and spending time in nature is the perfect setting to reflect. Bring a journal and write about whatever is on your mind. Try writing with your non-dominate hand to help your mind slow down. Draw the things you see in nature. These simple approaches to reflection can help you relax.

Volunteer

There are numerous volunteer opportunities that can get you out in nature more. Perhaps there is a community garden in your area, or a trail maintenance and hiking club such as the Carolina Mountain Club in Asheville, NC. These are great ways to help the environment and make new friends.

Take a Social Media Fast

Social media diverts attention. When you are in nature stop thinking about what pictures you want to take to share on social media. Let yourself become immersed in the experience. You will remember much more about the things you saw during a hike if you are not constantly thinking about what you want to photograph.

Enjoy the new year and get outside as much as you can. There is bountiful research showing that time in nature truly does wonders for your mind, body and spirit.

I hope to see you out on the trail or paddling sometime soon!

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The Power of Awe

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.” Albert Einstein

When was the last time you stopped to soak in the beauty of the sunset, or the full moon in the sky on a chilly fall evening? Viewing natural settings is one way to experience awe, or an intense emotional response to seeing something that is strikingly vast, which updates mental schema, or how we organize and interpret things. Awe can also be experienced viewing great works of art or through intellectual epiphany (Keltner & Haidt, 2003).

Research has shown that awe captivates our attention, focusing it on the environment, rather than on ourselves.    Another benefit of awe is that when we experience it we are less preoccupied with control. The desire to have control can be a costly preoccupation, forcing us to spend many hours worrying about how to gain or maintain control over many aspects of our life. When in nature we can focus on things other than problems or concerns we are currently experiencing, allowing reflection and dreaming of possibilities (Kaplan & Kaplan,1989).

Sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee (USA) as seen from "Beauty Spot" Photo by Mark Ellison

Sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee (USA) as seen from “Beauty Spot”
Photo by Mark Ellison

A recent study has some fascinating findings revealing that participants experiencing awe relative to other emotions felt they had more time available, were less impatient, were more willing to volunteer, preferred experiences over material products, and had a greater boost in life satisfaction. According to the authors, these changes in decision-making and well-being were due to the power of awe to alter the subjective experience of time. Experiencing awe apparently helps life feel more satisfying. Experiencing awe is something badly needed in a society obsessed with self, and instant gratification.

Slow down and take time to not only see, but really enjoy the beauty of the natural environment around you. It will change how you view yourself and the environment. Opening the door to awe may provide the much-needed inspiration you have needed in life! It may also lower your stress levels.

References

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Keltner, D. & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17(2), 297-314.