2020 has been a year like no other for many of us. The stress, anxiety, and depression many have felt due to COVID-19 has at times been overwhelming. Lockdown has stopped our routines, kept us prisoner at times in our own homes, and uncertain when/if we can return to life as it was before. The four walls of our homes felt so small and claustrophobic, as they became cages, making some of us finally see what it must be like to be an animal in a zoo or circus.
Most of us the Western World live concrete cities, filled with electronics and gadgets, with communication reduced down to talking via black mirrors, and spending time much of our time indoors. Even before COVID-19 and lockdown this had become our normal. With the arrival major technological advancements, we have escaped from the “Great Outdoors” and placed more emphasis on technology; such as, television, computers, and gaming. We would rather spend less time outdoors with nature, and more time on selfies with Snapchat filters or post pictures of our food to Instagram, than walking in woodlands and watching the sunrise from a mountain.
This in turn has led to some of us having nature-deficit disorder, a non-clinical term that describes the negative effects a lack of exposure to nature has upon on us. This has been highlighted particularly with children, as in order to protect them from harm, many parents have actively discouraged them from going outdoors. One common symptom is directed attention fatigue — the inability to remain focused on a single task, conversation, or item, often caused by the brain being overstimulated by technology.
To help us get back in touch with nature, the field of ecotherapy or nature therapy has been developed. Ecotherapy aims to help people connect with nature to aid in dealing with physical and mental illnesses. The idea is of re-connection, and seeks to remind us that we are part of ecosystems rather than separate from them.
Nature, whether we are camping in woods in the wilderness, in a city park, or simply walking down a tree-lined street, has the power to make people feel new again. Research has shown that a simple walk in nature can reduce anxiety, keep our spirits high, and even improve memory. Incredibly, just looking at photographs of greenery for less than a minute can give us a mood boost.
Within nature, trees have always held a special place in human culture throughout history, as sources of food, fuel and practical use, but also creative inspiration, mythic symbolism and spiritual significance. A good book I recently read by James Canton is The Oak Papers, which is about our relationship with oak trees, as well as James’ special connection with one particular tree. Trees also form part of the Japanese practise of Shinrin-yoku, also known in English as Forest Bathing. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.
I was asked to name one thing that had helped me with my mental health during lockdown, and I answered nature. I love walking through forests, listening to the birds and rivers, watching squirrels run up and down trees, touching their bark with my hands and face, feeling the ground in nothing but the soles of my feet, and take pictures with my camera or mobile/cell phone to mindfully take in that moment. Medication may not but for everyone, but meditation with nature is – any age, gender, race, religion, or ability can. So try it and remember: “Little by little we are encouraged to lay aside the chaos of a troubled world and gently nurture the capacity within to hear a more harmonious, universal rhythm.” Hoichi Kurisu
© Fi S. J. Brown