At last spring is here, and as I’ve just heard that April is National Stress Awareness Month, this seems an opportunity to highlight how nature can ease the stresses which have become so common in everyday life. No, nature won’t remove these stresses, but it might help rein them in or create a sense of proportion, and become a space for us to let off steam.
Nature eases stress most of all, I think, by freeing us from ourselves and by opening a door to a different perspective, to a different experience of what it is to live. Overthinking can be our downfall when it comes to stress, particularly overthinking the future. While we can’t enter into a bird or a dragonfly’s mind, as far as we can tell they live in the moment more than we do. So maybe as we spend time in nature, we overthink less. Maybe we too live more in the moment, as we focus on the here and now. It might last only as long as we connect with nature, but that alone can be a counterbalance, limiting stress’s power to overshadow all we think and do.
Different encounters with nature might help different people. Maybe the elemental liberates some people most – seeing an immense sky or sea. Maybe others respond more to the specific: to a known local tree, to birdsong, to watching marching ants or a spider’s web. Or it might just depend where we are and what nature we can experience. As wilderness shrinks in so many places and parts of the world, there’s less “otherness” to counterbalance our own perspective, there are fewer havens for us.
When I go for my regular walks I have mainly just spent time online, and I find walking then s helpful in clearing my mind. Some days, when my mind is whirling with what I need to do, getting outside slowly sets it all in perspective as the screen’s importance recedes. Of the three areas Medley focuses on, music boosts my mood, art absorbs and energises me, but I think on balance it is nature which calms me most.
Nature too is in an endless battle to survive. It has to feed, it needs space and shelter, it needs to be alert to threats from predators. But from our perspective, nature seems simpler. So many of the causes of our stress just don’t exist in nature. So it is that connecting with nature is an opportunity to forget, and to recharge. That might be by focusing on the local and familiar, on a species like the house sparrow which spends its life within just one kilometre. Or it might be by opening our eyes to the wider world, to species like migratory birds which cross the globe every year. It might be through walking or cycling, or it might be virtually, encountering nature through podcasts or slow radio, like the BBC’s new Soundscapes for Wellbeing on BBC Sounds. I also recently heard about the Virtual Nature Experiment, which is exploring the impact these virtual encounters have on wellbeing by asking questions about how you respond to different video clips. You might like to take part at bit.ly/natureexperiment
It would be great if you would like to share how nature helps reduce stress for you in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you!