The outdoors and nature mean different things to everyone, and everyone’s experiences of nature is unique. There is an idea, known as the Biophillia hypothesis, that suggests that as humans we have an innate connection to nature, that we are drawn to it.
Biophilia hypothesis, the idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.
Connecting with nature will look different for different people. For some people connecting in with nature might simply be taking a step outside to feel the breeze on your face or listen to the birds. It could also involve spending some time with a pet, an indoor plant or photos of natural places. For others it might involve something more active like gardening, going for a walk or even camping or hiking.
For me, when I am outside, I connect more deeply to myself and those I am with. When I am outdoors other concerns and worries fade a little or seem less important.
Research has shown that being in nature is good for our physical and mental health. Many people, myself included, may find nature to be a non-judgemental space. In nature I am OK as I am. I also find that nature opens the door to curiosity, to wonder about the connections between different aspects of nature or how an area came to be.
So, what can this mean for you in recovery?
There have been research studies that show the benefits of nature in ED specific recovery. It can enhance awareness and connection between the body and the mind and also build mindfulness skills or the ability to remain present in the moment and calm.
Where you are in your recovery journey will influence how active you may choose to be in the outdoors, but there are many activities you can do anywhere. Here are a few you might like to explore:
- Grounding activities: Take your shoes off and just notice what is happening for you. What do you feel underneath your feet, is it a floor or maybe grass, dirt or sand. Try pushing your feet into the ground and then release. What do you notice about your body and your emotions when you do this? You could also try this by holding any nature item in your hand: a leaf, a rock or shell. It might be something from your favourite place or a safe place that you can keep with you wherever you go.
- Engage in your senses: Step outside and take a moment to simply notice what’s around you. You might feel the wind or sun on your face, hear birds and breathe in different air. You could even start this one indoors if that felt safer. Being outdoors or with nature can heighten our ability to tune into our senses. Sensory approaches are known to be supportive in ED recovery and supportive in managing emotions. You can read more about sensory approaches here.
- Go on an awe walk: An awe walk is a walk where you deliberately look around you for wonder. Before heading off on an awe walk, first spend some time connecting with each of your senses: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch, then wander at your own pace. Deliberately aim to see the world through fresh eyes. Allow yourself to notice and wonder at the shapes of the clouds or the grass growing through cracks in the pavement. Here is a link to an article for more information about Awe walks and their potential benefits.
You might like to try all of these activities or just one. It is important that you make it fit for you and your experiences. Try to remember that it is ok if it doesn’t feel perfectly right or calming the first time you try it. Lots of these activities, like any new skill, can take time and practice to feel the benefits. It might also be that you start with something really small like standing outside for a minute without noticing anything and when that feels ok start to bring in the sensory ideas. You could also start with something virtual like a nature soundtrack or a virtual walk like this one.
Maybe take some time now to think about how you could connect with nature. How could it work with the things you enjoy doing. Will you spend time with a pet? Lie or sit on the grass to watch the clouds? Grow a plant? Or go on a walk outside or even virtually?
- Jepsen Trangsrud, L. K., Borg, M., Bratland-Sanda, S., & Klevan, T. (2020). Embodying experiences with nature in everyday life recovery for persons with eating disorders. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(8), 2784.