Florence Williams is a journalist and contributing editor to Outside magazine. Upon the release of her new book The Nature Fix, she offers her top ten suggestions of things you can do in the outdoors that could make you feel happier.
Try Forest Bathing
This Japanese practice involves opening all your senses to a rich forest environment, no nudity required. Japanese researchers found that even a 20-minute walk on a wooded trail can reduce your blood pressure an average 11 percent and lower your cortisol hormones (a measure of stress). The key is to pay attention to your surroundings, so take the earbuds out.
Look for natural patterns
Our eyes evolved to interpret information from trees, clouds and moving water. Richard Taylor, a physicist at the University of Oregon, says patterns like fractals help trigger relaxing, alpha brain waves. In one study he found that patterns from nature engage the brain’s parahippocampus, which helps regulate emotions and is also engaged by music. Looking at ocean waves might have a similar effect on us emotionally as listening to Brahms.
Listen to the Birds
For millions of years, birdsong was our natural soundtrack. Science shows it makes us feel more alert and more relaxed. One school in Britain found improved performance in students when birdsong was piped into classrooms after lunch. Try seeking out 20 minutes of birdsong to recover from daily stress.
Find some awe
Once a neglected emotion in the field of social science, awe has recently been shown to make us feel more generous, happier and more connected socially. When people describe the last time they felt awe, 70 percent of them mention the natural world. Awe doesn’t have to be dramatic – it can be quiet and slightly wondrous, like a fiery sunset, the milky way or a perfect dragonfly. And it’s an emotion we can cultivate, with the help of being outside more often.
Seek out Wild Spaces
When we are fortunate enough to spend several days in the deep wilderness or wild country, our brains change a bit, says U.S. neuroscientist David Strayer . The so-called “Three-Day Effect” helps us relax our exhausted frontal cortex and re-examine our life goals, relationships and place in the universe. We engage parts of the brain associated with reflection and creativity. Time to head for the mountains.
Send Your Kids to Camp
Kids these days spend 6.5 hours on digital devices, according to the American organisation CommonSense Media. But at camp, they learn to connect with nature and to each other, providing lifelong gifts like outdoor sport skills and face-to-face social skills.
Or to Forest Kindergarten
Kindergarten founder Friedrich Fröbel understood that an education filled with nature and art could instill a lifelong readiness to learn. He also believed children would also pick up emotional skills like empathy, as well as a profound sense of the interconnection of all living things. Research has borne out the 19th century educator – kids who attend outdoor kindergartens catch up to their peers in academics by 3rd grade and continue to outperform them in social skills, problem-solving and self-regulation.
Or at least take them Outside
When siblings play outside, they fight less. Girls tend to run around, climb trees, build forts and in general get as much exercise as boys outside, improving their large-motor skills as well as their metabolic health. Often kids find comfort in nature, forging a relationship to last a life time.