Yesterday I took my kids to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, which celebrates its 200th birthday this year. This is something we don’t do often enough, despite how much I love it. Every time, I succumb to imagining that we’ll go wondering aimlessly among the flower beds, the trees, the herb gardens and the humid conservatory, and we’ll marvel at the tiny African violets under the dense rainforest pines. But that’s not how it usually plays out. Usually we rock up to the gardens, the kids make a bee-line for the gift shop and ice cream stand, declare they’re bored, and I drag them around to look at the pond and the ducks until the whinging gets to me and we go home. Not. Very. Relaxing.

But yesterday was different. 

Brave the Wild

Recently I’ve been listening to audio versions of some wonderful books that have shaken up my thinking around self-care, self-doubt, and self-worth. These are topics that I often talk about when I’m working with clients in my practice, and when I’m mentoring other mental health professionals. There has been a real trend lately towards strong, direct women writing on these topics in seriously thought-provoking ways: I’m thinking “The 5 Second Rule” by Mel Robbins, “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown and Jen Sincero‘s “You Are A Badass”.  Among all these fabulous writings one common thought (among many) has popped up in various guises. It is this: Put yourself in the way of beauty (natural beauty, mother-nature-type-beauty) to lift your mood.

Biophilia – It’s In Our Wiring

It seems obvious really, a gentle stroll outdoors in the sunshine makes us feel good. But in our busy city lives it is something we so often overlook. The power of being outdoors, being in the wild, soaking up all that green. That power is not your imagination, it is documented fact. We humans feel better when we spend time in nature. There is a technical word for this – biophilia. The biophilia hypothesis proposes that humans are innately wired to seek out and benefit from being among nature. There is a fair bit of research proving that there are benefits not only from being in nature, but also that simply looking at pictures of nature can improve mood and promote a sense of wellbeing. You’re welcome.

Forest Bathing

I prefer the Japanese phrase for this: Shinrin-yoku, which roughly translates to “forest bathing” – or drinking in the wonder and beauty of nature. The aim of Shinrin-yoku is not hiking, mountain climbing, or other energetic outdoor pursuits. It’s not even actual bathing. The intention of Shinrin-yoku is to just be among the trees. Be alert, be relaxed, be mindful, be present. Just be, and soak up the benefits. Even just imagining breathing in the beauty of a clear crisp forest makes me close my eyes and breathe a little more deeply.

So … The kids …

So I played around with this idea yesterday at the Botanical Gardens with my kids. Instead of trying to see as much of the gardens as humanly possible, I let them just be there. I found a seat on the grass, sat quietly and breathed in the warm autumn air. The kids let their hair down, ran around like crazy beasts, and played roly-poly down the hill (yes, the one below).

Spent, they were happy then to move on to the next pocket of the gardens. I found another seat and simply let them be. They found a tree with low lying boughs, and spent almost an hour climbing on, swinging from, and laughing among the tree’s branches. Again, I soaked up the sun on my face, the sound of the wind in the trees, and all the gorgeous colours of a Tasmanian early-autumn afternoon. While hands-free parenting could be a topic for another blog post, I’m happy to report that the children loved their experience of being in and among the trees of the gardens. They can’t wait to go again. And I certainly felt more relaxed!

Living in A Concrete Jungle?

As I mentioned above, simply viewing nature can bring about many of the same benefits of being in nature, as confirmed by the research studies I mentioned earlier.  So if you’re stuck in a city with few parks, no nearby forests, or no means to access them, don’t despair. Do what you can, because it all helps. Fill your space with lush plants. Change your computer’s screensaver to a rolling slideshow of beautiful nature photos (have a look at sites like Pexels for free photos if you don’t have any). Put a comfy chair near the window with the view of the tree across the road. Watch beautiful documentaries about nature. And whenever you can, just stop, breathe, let the sun shine on your face, and soak up whatever snippets of nature you can find.

It’s good for you.