Suspecting I was struggling with a touch of compassion fatigue, my husband recently convinced me to head up to northern Michigan for a few days to stay at our family’s cottage. I was long overdue for some much-needed self-care, so I packed a small suitcase and hit the road. It was officially fall, which meant that the tourist season had come to another close, the trees began to show hints of color, and the lake was still – perfect for a little rest and relaxation.
Our cottage, which is located on the southern tip of Torch Lake, has always served as a refuge for me. No matter what Mother Nature has to offer – the gentle lapping of the waves on the beach, the warmth of the summer sun, or an evening thunderstorm – she has ability to nourish the mind, body, and soul.
But don’t just take my word for it. In fact, there is mounting evidence that suggests that nature does indeed have a restorative effect on our well-being by combatting mental fatigue, reducing stress, and improving productivity and concentration. Exposure to nature has even been shown to increase our life satisfaction and promote a more positive outlook (Chalquist, 2009).
While weekend getaways are nice, you don’t necessarily have to travel to the woods or the lake in order to reap the benefits of nature. Healing can take place almost anywhere, anytime with a little effort and imagination:
- Take walks outside on your lunch break
- Go to a park and have a picnic
- Plant a garden – inside or out!
- Go swimming
- Plant a tree
- Sit quietly and observe birds and animals
- Go skiing or sledding
- Practice mindfulness, mediation, or deep breathing outdoors
- Bring the outdoors in – decorate your home or work space with elements of nature, such as rocks, wood, live plants, or even a small water fountain.
Take a Mindful Approach
No matter what the season, there are countless ways to enjoy the healing power of nature. The next time you head outdoors, give this mindfulness activity a try:
- Wherever you are, take a deep breath and look around you. Simply notice what you see. Do you see water? Trees? Mountains? Without judgment, just observe everything you see.
- Take notice of all the sounds that nature has to offer. What can you hear? Do you hear leaves rustling? Birds chirping? Again, without judgment, just notice what you hear.
- What do you smell? Do you notice the aroma of flowers or maybe a salty mist coming from the ocean? Without judgment, simply notice what you smell and take it all in.
- Finally, notice what you feel. Notice the sensation of your breath coming in and going out. Without judgment, notice how the breeze or the sun feels against your skin. Notice how your feet feel firmly planted against the earth.
- Wherever you are, use all of your senses to simply observe and be in the moment.
Chalquist, C., 2009. Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.