The Value of Nature as an Antidote to Pandemic Stress

The natural world is carrying on, oblivious to the news

A bright red Scarlet Tanager has been policing the perimeter of my property. He starts at dawn in the big pine in the southeast corner, singing his bright song of simple notes, warning any trespassers to keep out. Then he goes to the hedgerow on the east side of the garden, again singing his warning song.

He continues moving around the border of the acre and a half, ending up in the pine tree again at the end of his rounds. Then he starts again. He does this all day long, a tireless defender of his female and her nest, wherever she is hidden in my garden.

I find so much comfort in the rhythms of nature, especially now. Many days I am head down in my phone, reading all the grim news, wishing I could just go to the Y and swim and then stop for a coffee afterward. The song of this grand orator causes me to jerk my head up, waking me up to the beauty of the day. I look up, pay attention and smile.

The creatures in my garden seem to be unphased by all the bad news that is our new reality. They are busy doing what they do every year at this time. They are pairing up, building nests, or digging burrows, lining them with the soft feathers my chickens drop in the yard, and working diligently to feed and care for their young.

I go out in the morning and fill bird feeders, and put fresh water in the bird baths. I check the garden and see that someone has chewed a hole in my ripening butternut squash. The fact that some of my garden produce falls prey to the needs of the critters doesn’t bother me much. They are doing important work. They are keeping a part of my world normal, when so much of it isn’t.

The flowers are blooming, the vegetables and fruits are ripening and filling baskets to be brought into the kitchen, the rain falls, the breezes blow and the weeds are bounding out of the ground. All is as it should be in the world of nature. The rest of the world can go to hell in the proverbial handbasket, and none of the living, growing things around here will skip a beat.

This is the value of paying attention to nature. It reminds us that we are meant to survive. It reassures us that life goes on. Spending time in nature can be a grounding practice that holds us steady when things are out of our control. Nature can be our anchor to sanity in these difficult times.

Studies have proven the link between time spent in nature and our mental well-being. An article from the Harvard Medical School states that “…those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.”

If there has ever been a time that we are all experiencing that unending loop of fearful and negative thoughts, this is it. We need a reprieve from the 24-hour news cycle and our own busy minds. Being outdoors in a natural setting is all it takes to break that loop and improve our sense of well-being.

Getting out into nature is important to building the mental resilience you will need to get through this long slog of a pandemic. Many researchers are not sure why nature has this effect on us, but I believe it is because as humans, we evolved with nature over the millennia. It is innate in us to feel grounded and connected when we are in a natural setting.

This past weekend, my husband and I took a drive up to the Blue Ridge mountains to sit on a rock on a high peak. We were both to a breaking point with the stress of the news and the weight of our hurting world. We gazed at mountains that folded and rippled before us for miles and miles. A short hike, and time in the quiet was all we needed to reset, and refresh our spirits.

I hope you will find time soon to get away to a place where you can be refreshed and gain a sense of peace. A walk on the beach or some quiet time on a bench in the park is usually all it takes to make us feel that we are going to be alright. Getting out in nature, even briefly, can shift our mood to a more positive state, giving us the strength to carry on when things are difficult.

Human learning to be human. Writing in hopes of getting there.

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