You should sit in nature for 20 minutes a day…unless you’re busy, then you should sit for an hour – Zen saying
Our relationship to nature can be a complex one. Exploring more deeply our personal experiences and what constitutes quality time in nature can help us to be more intentional when it comes to prioritizing our mental health and wellness.
Many of us might feel stuck at a desk for most of the day and struggle to prioritize an adequate amount of time in nature. It’s important to consider not only how much time you spend in nature but also the quality of that time. Recent studies demonstrate that regular, meaningful contact with nature is correlated with greater mental and physical health, just as minimal or no contact with nature is associated with symptoms such as depression, anxiety, a sense of malaise, feelings of emptiness, attention problems, poor sleep, obesity, heart disease, and hypertension (Barton & Pretty, 2010; Martyn & Brymer, 2016; Weng & Chiang, 2014).
At the American Family Therapy Academy’s national conference a few years back, I heard a wonderful and thought-provoking talk about taking an eco-informed approach to therapy which left a major impression on me.
The presenter, Dr. Tracey Laszloffy, emphasized the importance of helping clients to not only take inventory of how much time they spend in nature, but also helping them to assess the quality of their time in nature. So for example, if we are “in nature” but glued to our phone the entire time, are we truly experiencing the many benefits of nature?
In modern times, it is not unusual for many of us to be without much time in nature for weeks or even months at a time.
In a newly published article in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Dr. Lazsloffy and her colleague Dr. Davis share:
Our hope is to invite a consideration of the role of nature in one’s life (and vice‐versa), prompt a sincere reflection on one’s values about nature, and commit to assessing for and encouraging regular involvement with nature should clients so desire. (Lazsloffy & Davis, 2019)
Although the journal article is geared specifically toward mental health professionals, these insightful questions can help anyone to take a closer look at their relationship to nature and begin to explore it further:
- What kind of interactions did you have with nature as a child?
- How did you play or not play outdoors?
- How much or how little did your parents engage with you in outdoor activities?
- What thoughts and feelings did you have about nature as a child?
- What thoughts and feelings do you currently have about nature?
- How would you describe your relationship with nature?
- What, if any, value does nature have to you?
- How much time do you currently spend outdoors each week?
- Is this amount of time acceptable to you? Does it meet your needs? If not, what prevents you from having more time?
- What effect does interacting with/spending time in nature have on you?
- Where are your favorite outdoor places and spaces? Why?
- What are your most feared or disliked natural places/spaces? Why?
- To what extent are you able to derive comfort and healing from the natural world?
As indigenous communities have long understood, and as a growing body of research is beginning to demonstrate, an essential component of health and wellness involves having regular, meaningful contact with nature. (Besthorn, Wulff, & St. George, 2010; Louv, 2011; Pretty, 2004; Weng & Chiang, 2014).
Given the commitment that family therapists have to contextualizing our understanding of human experience, it only makes sense that we would include the ecological context in our consideration. (Laszloffy & Davis 2019)
If you’d like to increase quality time spent in nature, what are some of your obstacles? What’s one step you can take this week to help you move closer to your wish?
Besthorn, F. H., Wulff, D., & St. George, S.(2010). Eco‐spiritual helping and postmodern therapy: A deeper ecological framework. Ecopsychology, 2(1), 23–32.
Louv, R. (2011). The nature principle: Human restoration and the end of nature‐deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Pretty, J. (2004). How nature contributes to mental and physical health. Spirituality and Health International, 5, 68–78.
Weng, P., & Chiang, Y. (2014). Psychological restoration through indoor and outdoor leisure activities. Journal of Leisure Research, 46(2), 203–217.
Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi‐study analysis. Environmental Science and Technology, 44(10), 3947–3955.
Martyn, P., & Brymer, E. (2016). The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety. Journal of Health Psychology, 21, 1436–1445.
Laszloffy, T. A., & Davis, S. D. (2019). Nurturing nature: Exploring ecological self-of-the-therapist issues. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 45(1), pp. 176-185.
For more information on this topic, you can check out the following resources:
A playlist of TED talks focusing on reconnecting with nature: https://www.ted.com/playlists/398/reconnect_with_nature