Nature does you some good as you grieve, and science can prove it
We know that grieving can be one of the most stressful experiences we can expect in our lives. The folks at the University of Minnesota’s Taking Charge of Health and Wellbeing project have news for all of us, grievers or not, about how to reduce our stress, anger, and fear; and to help out our bodies by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. This powerful option couldn’t be simpler: Be in nature. Even looking at images of natural scenes can work too, they say.
You won’t be alone. In one study they cite, over two-thirds of people turn to a natural setting when stressed. In another, 95% of subjects reported that their mood improved from being outdoors, changing from “depressed, stressed, and anxious” to “more calm and balanced.”
When we seek out nature to soothe and rest from our grieving, we follow a powerful impulse to care for ourselves.
Maybe you already have a list in your head of the places you visit to gain this calm and balanced effect; or maybe a list of places you’ve thought of but haven’t yet seen. If this idea is new to you, maybe it can inspire you to choose one or two nearby spots to try out for the first time.
To test out the notion that even images can have a positive effect, you can seek out photos and books with natural scenes to lighten some of your times at home – an old stack of National Geographic magazines, for instance, or nature photography books from the library or your own shelves, or the photo albums many of us have lying around getting dusty. And then there is the internet, a bottomless source of such images.
After you collect some, take a few minutes away from competing media, and give your full attention to the images. Imagine the sights and sounds of being there, recall a visit to a similar spot. If you are moved to, figure out how you would get yourself there (or to a comparable spot) for an in-person experience.
Maybe you turn this into a new way to find direction through your grief. When you hit a snag in your day, a five-minute nature break can soothe and revive you. You will become an expert in what helps you the most – a walk through the woods, memories of a trip to the Tetons, a photo of the creek near your grandparents’ home, a glimpse of clouds against a blue sky, your own garden.
There is meaning underlying the search. Nature withstands all sorts of challenges – floods, fires, drought—and comes back strong. We can too.
If you are interested in more detail, see https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing-nature and associated articles on their site.