By Gary Wallace, CORE NI
Like many other people I spent the Christmas period in isolation having tested positive for Covid. Thankfully I had very little symptoms and ill effects. During this period, I was able to review my year, plan for the next and read. One book I read was gifted to me by my sister. It was called ‘Grounded’. It was all about connecting with nature to improve your mental and physical well-being.
The author, Ruth Allen, was always fascinated with nature and outdoors from a young age and went on to study a PhD in geology. Geologists study the materials, processes, products, physical nature, and history of the Earth. What she soon found was that she was spending more time indoors studying the outdoors rather than being part or connected with it. This realisation eventually took her down the path of reconnecting with nature, changing career and training to be a counsellor who specialises in outdoor practice and nature connection.
As I was reading it, I knew over the past few months I had lost a little bit of connection with nature. The time of the year could have been used as an excuse but I have jumped into freezing lakes before around this time of the year, now I wasn’t even heading to a forest for a walk. Personally, this had a negative effect on my mood, adventure and even fitness as I love being active outside. As soon as I was out of isolation it was a trip to the Gortin Glens, my very own play park. I love to run around the Glens and I remember finishing my first run singing and dancing along the path. Instantly my mood had changed from one run in the place that I love to visit.
The book itself helps to explain this with scientific research. Studies confirm that nature is good for our physical, emotional psychological, social and spiritual wellbeing. But nature is not a beneficial extra and in my case it was more that it doesn’t strengthened your connection with nature, but it is weakened by my separation from it.
This is backed up by the biophilia theory which suggests that we all have a genetically determined affinity with the natural world, and that we all possess an innate tendency to seek connection with what is vital beyond the human species. In the book Ruth explains that you don’t need to run around a field naked to be one with nature. Nature is all around us from the sky, rivers, forests even the weeds growing between the cracks in the pavement.
I love walking out my front door and seeing the Gortin Glens in the distance, it’s like its a magnet calling me to come and explore all it has to offer. When I step out my back door there are trees to the left that I sometimes stop and stare at, just watching them blowing in the wind or notice squirrels and birds moving from tree to tree.
When was the last time you stopped and just observed nature? We all live in a fast-moving world, sometimes we need to slow down and realise there is so much beauty in front of us. The next time you see something in nature, just stop and pause, even for a second and wonder in its natural beauty. A study carried out by the University of Derby showed that simply going outside is not enough to improve mental health on its own, it’s what you do with the time outdoors that matters.
Nature engagement is how we access the goodness of nature for mental well-being – we need to develop a meaningful, more emotional relationship. This can be practiced a number of ways from sitting still or moving around by just observing.
If you have found that you are disconnected from nature or find that you aren’t really a nature person, I would start small. Find a place that is close to you, it may be a park, local river or even the back garden. Take a walk or just stand there and observe what is around you, then start to focus on one thing. A tree, blade of grass, a flower, a bird in the sky and that’s it. That’s the first step to connecting and appreciating nature. From then grow your relationship with nature and make it a frequent habit for 2022.
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