The Importance of Opting Outside to Feel Better Inside
It’s been about six months since Covid-19 first plucked us out of our routines and hurled us into an alternate universe. The ups and downs of our rapidly changing environment have me in a state that can best be described as perpetual energetic whiplash. When chaos like this ensues, I tend to turn inward, but lately I’ve found myself looking out and feeling pulled toward wide, open spaces even more than usual.
The general positive effects of spending time outdoors have been known for a long time, but there’s a growing body of research that points specifically to the benefits nature has on health. According to Yale University, studies have shown that time in nature — as long as people feel safe — is a powerful antidote for stress. And in a time where something as basic as going to the grocery store can elevate our cortisol levels, it’s safe to say we could all use a little more time outside.
Access to nature for all is more critical now than ever as we navigate these stressful, uncertain times. As humans, we all look for ways to mitigate uncertainty – whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, we compare our experiences and try to make sense of the world around us. We look for patterns and use historical data to make predictions about the future because for most, the unknown is much more terrifying than any specific outcome.
That’s where mindfulness comes in. Defined by Merriam-Webster as the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness [of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis]; there is no better place to practice mindfulness than the natural world. When you’re out there, there is simply no room for anything else, whether you’re moving methodically up a rock face, wiping ice particles from your eyelashes in a snowstorm, or listening to the crisp crunch of leaves beneath your feet as you stroll through a park.
Spending time in nature brings on a sense of rootedness that I’ve come to rely on over the years. There’s a steadiness to nature amidst her relentless uncertainty, and I can always find a particular sense of calm within this contradiction. As we move toward the close of this dystopian year and enter into the colder months, it’s increasingly important to log off, tune in and get out, safely.