6 Ways To Connect With Nature During The Coronavirus

Contributing writer By Stacey Colino
Contributing writer
Stacey Colino is an award-winning writer, specializing in health and psychology, and the coauthor of the book, EMOTIONAL INFLAMMATION: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times.
Anonymous Hands Watering House Plants With Spray Bottle

Image by Alberto Bogo / Stocksy

Spending time in nature really helps you focus on the here and now, freeing your mind from the chatter and clutter of everyday life and helping you feel like part of something larger than yourself. Whether you're walking in the woods, gazing at the stars and moon, or looking closely at the flowers that are starting to bloom around us, these experiences elicit a sense of awe, a feeling of reverential respect and wonder that we feel in the presence of something that's majestic or that transcends our understanding of the world. 

Now that we're living in a time of social distancing and sheltering in place, it may seem more difficult, if not impossible—particularly if you live in an urban area—to tune into the awe-inspiring effects of the natural world.

But that's not true. Here are some ways, both large and small, that you can reclaim the gifts of nature and get them on your side, wherever you live: 

1. Bring the outdoors in.

Incorporating elements of biophilic (nature-related) design into your home has been found to reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, and improve well-being. Integrate the presence of plants and water (perhaps with a small fountain) into your indoor space.

Incorporate objects or images that showcase fractals, patterns of repeated shapes at different scales, and other elements that are evocative of nature into your surroundings: The next time you go for a walk in nature, collect long sticks with interesting curves or fragrant pine cones and place them in a vase or bowl on a table. 

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2. Trick your mind into feeling as if it were in a verdant, outdoor space, not surrounded by walls.

Display dramatic photographs of nature—such as sun-dappled forests, majestic cliffs, or sand dunes—in your home office or workspace, or consider painting a wall green. (Now that we're in cocooning mode, this is a great time for DIY household projects.) The scientific literature is full of studies illustrating how viewing scenes from nature relieves stress and physical pain, enhances attention and cognition, and provides other mind-body benefits. 

3. Surround yourself with sounds of nature.

The field of psychoacoustics has provided remarkable insights into how our minds respond to sounds, including the reality that the auditory pulse of moving water is immensely calming, reducing activity in the brain's fight-or-flight center, the amygdala. So go ahead and open a window or listen to sounds from nature on an app (think twittering birds, a babbling brook, the sound of wind or waves) while you're cooking or working.

A study from Sweden found that after completing a series of stressful tasks, listening to sounds of nature enhanced people's physiological and psychological recovery from the stress. If you have trouble drifting off to sleep at night, consider using a sound machine or an app on your phone (at a low volume) that features the sound of waves or a rain forest. 

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4. Gaze at the night sky.

Research shows that night-sky watching can have calming, tension-relieving, and mood-enhancing effects. When you look at the glowing moon, twinkling stars, and bright planets at night, you can become entranced by them and enter a profound state of psychological absorption.

Night-sky watching also elicits a sense of awe and wonder, as it reminds us that we are all part of a larger world and universe. To tap into these emotionally therapeutic benefits, all you need to do is stand on a deck, patio, or front stoop at night and look up. 

5. Grow plants indoors.

Besides adding color and texture to your surroundings, people who work in a "green" office space that includes plants tend to feel and be more productive than those who work in a minimalist space. (Small, green, lightly scented plants have been shown to have the best effects on health and well-being at work.) At home, you might consider planting an herb garden in a window box. 

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6. Cultivate a sensory oasis.

Keep a book of soothing or inspiring nature-based photographs within easy reach so that you can reset your mood and mind when you need a boost. Create a visual respite by placing a mini Zen rock garden on your desk—or keep a lavender or rosemary essential oil sachet on your desk for a soothing aroma. Bookmark a link to a favorite scenic slideshow on your computer and turn to it for a dose of emotional rescue when you need it. 

No matter how anxious, frustrated, or exasperated you may be feeling about the state of the world, you can help reset your emotional equilibrium by reclaiming the gifts of nature. Even when you're largely stuck indoors, this can be done—if you use some creativity and ingenuity.

That's what we all need right now for the sake of our emotional equilibrium and well-being—and elements of the natural world can bring us these gifts. As the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright advised his students: "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you." That's a good lesson for us all.

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