JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS
Nature: Threat or Nurturer
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D
The effects of climate change are impacting each of us in emotional, physical, or financial ways. Some communities have suffered catastrophic loss from earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, floods, forest fires, and extremes of heat and cold. This winter’s deeply cold weather was destructive to many people in Southern and Eastern states. These natural disasters, caused or exacerbated by the fallout from climate change, make us feel threatened, fearful, and powerless.
David, Attenborough, a sixty-year veteran of exploring the natural world, has brought us so many memorable stories and images of nature. He didn’t point out the threats to nature as he thought if he focused on the beauty and wonder, we would want to protect it. His newest series, A Life on Our Planet, streaming on Netflix, is a stark warning about the damage done by climate change, and how the earth will continue to decline if humanity does not change its behavior. He tells us that if we make the right moves now, we can avoid a ruined planet followed by inexorable human decline.
What might motivate us to change our attitudes and habits in a way that would protect the earth and reverse the climate change momentum? A 2019 study “Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective” found that, “Human well-being is linked to the natural environment in myriad ways.” From a walk in a city park to a day-long hike in the woods, being in nature reaps a variety of benefits.
Exposure to nature improves attention, lowers stress, helps improve our mood, reduces the risk of psychiatric disorders, and can even help us be more empathic and cooperative. Other benefits include positive social interaction, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, improved manageability of life tasks, and decreases mental distress. Cognitively it can help memory, impulse inhibition, school performance, imagination, and creativity.
My childhood which was pre-tv, cell phone, and the internet were filled with outdoor activities, more connection with people, and no screen time. In the last fifty years, we have evolved into a largely sedentary society spending ten or more hours a day with TV, computers, and phones. The population has expanded into an urban society with dwindling rural areas. Land is occupied by human housing, crops, and industry. It is no wonder that we have lost touch with the natural world.
The trauma of the effects of climate change and COVID-19 has pushed pause in the way we have been living. It seems we are forced by environmental issues and the virus to become more aware of our surroundings. Nature is appearing on our radar in a new and, sometimes wonderful way. Because we have been at home more, people are walking, running and biking.
They are walking their dogs and spending outdoor time with their children. More people are reporting working in their yards planting flowers, herbs, and vegetable gardens. Tired of looking at screens, we want time with each other and with nature.
A United Kingdom study, with a sample of twenty thousand adults, found that people who had spent at least two recreational hours in nature for the previous week reported significantly greater health and well-being. The amount of time in nature isn’t the only element to consider. Researchers have also found that when people felt ‘connected’ to nature the positive effect is greater. Some studies found that viewing images and sounds of nature were also helpful in effecting positive change.
As we spend more time in nature, feel more connected and appreciative, will we want to be more committed to caring for the Earth? If we care for a person, a group, an animal, we are motivated to protect them and work for their well-being. So, let’s think about ways we can connect with nature, help others to do so, and, hopefully, make changes that would counter climate change.
How much time do you spend outdoors? Do you ‘connect’ with nature in some way? Perhaps you could begin structuring more time in outdoor activities and focus on your connection with the sights, sounds, and smells of the space. Hopefully, you may find yourself more motivated to support the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, your local parks, hiking and bike trails, or local gardens. Perhaps you might eat more healthily, consuming less meat. Maybe you could volunteer at a local program for clean-up or restoration of natural areas. You might become more conscious of your energy usage. May you feel better, connect more deeply with nature, and find your way to protect and care for the Earth.
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC is a counselor and educator at the Heartland Holistic Health Center. She is the author of the “Life Weaving Education Curriculum” that teaches creative, effective, holistic problem-solving. For counseling appointments (confidential video sessions), seminars, in-service training, or speaker’s bureau, call 816-509-9277 or firstname.lastname@example.org; www.heartlandholistic.com. Some pro bono and lower fee sessions available at this time.