“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks". Those words by John Muir have always held fast with me and after having spent a week enchanted by the majesty of the Northern Territory my faith in the healing powers of the great outdoors have been re-affirmed.
So before I move on to “deeper” stuff next week I wanted to talk a little about how important I believe being outdoors/in nature is for mental health.
The Northern Territory includes what is known as the Red Centre. A vast red sand desert that blankets the whole of central Australia, it stretches for half a million square kilometres and travelling through it is truly mind blowing – the sheer scale of the place is indescribable. The nearest comparison I can make is that feeling when you look up at the stars and get a sense of wonder – your place in the universe truly dawns on you.
When I'm in places like that it feels like my mind is being re-fueled as it soaks up the space around me. Almost the moment I gaze out on a wild landscape, make my first step on a sandy path or dip my feet in to a wild river I feel a sense of balance restored. For me nature is home, and if you think about our past and our biological make up that is true of all of us.
There is no more a poignant place to further instil that belief than in Australia. The aboriginal people who have called Australia home for over 30,000 years have an enviable and enchanting connection to the land. Through their songs and stories they navigate their way through vast landscapes, they believe their ancestors make up the plants, trees and animals around them. Most stimulating of all – they have a concept known as “Conception Place” – the place where you were first conceived is where you should be buried. A little patch of Earth where the atoms combined to make you who you are and where you go back to when you die to make the Earth you. So simple and yet for me it explains so much about why we are so connected and revived by nature.
Beyond my ramblings I wanted to look a bit more at whether there is much science behind the “cure of nature” philosophy.
Now I’m not going to bore you to tears by churning out loads of scientific journal references but a quick Google and you’ll see there are numerous experiments that have been done that prove the positive effects of nature on your mind. Including one that showed a 20% increase in short-term memory for those who spent time in nature after learning a new set of data rather than those in an urban environment (Journal of Affective Disorders, 2013). As well as evidence that even a view of nature from an office or getting in to nature in your neighbourhood helps with depression (Bioscience, Oxford Journals, 2017). Anyway the jury is in and it says this is evidence based as well as being just plain bloody obvious when you get your feet muddy.
For something a little more accessible than journal articles I recently listened to the “Slow Home" podcast experiment on getting out in nature "The Great Outdoors" (http://slowyourhome.com/227/) – Brooke and her family clearly felt the benefit. A big take-away from this was the sense of awe you get from nature sometimes, some of those pesky journal articles back up that a sense of awe is linked to better mental health. (PS - The Slow Home podcast is something I am just exploring but I'm looking forward to talking more about it).
To finish I wanted to talk a little, without being too preachy, about how to get outside. I know from my darkest times how tough it can be just to drag yourself out of bed let alone preparing for a hike or a big camping trip. However I thought I'd list a few ways I think getting outdoors can become that little easier:
Dip in the sea (no previous training required but loads of space. No need to even swim just stand with the waves lapping against your feet),
ParkRun (FREE weekly 5km runs hosted on Saturday mornings around the world – go as slow/fast as you like and good way to be social as well),
Join a club – (social connection and outdoors, can be scary to do when you’re feeling depressed but most people are very welcoming),
Geo Caching – (Outdoor treasure hunt using the power of your phone. It's great fun and you'll walk miles without even knowing it),
Garden – (Watch nature unfold),
Mess around with friends in the park – (a BBQ or picnic, bring a book and just chill somewhere magical)
I know it can be tough but I believe that a little bit of wild will help foster a lot more calm.