Let me ask you a simple question. How often do you go outside? No, not to get to the car or hop onto a bus to get to work or a place of study. How often do you go for a walk in a park? How much time out of your schedule is dedicated to spending time in a forest? If you are like any average city person, chances are your answer will be “not very often”.
Modern life places a lot of expectations on our lifestyles, often trapping us in schedules that we can barely keep up with. Going to the forest? We hardly have enough time to fit in lunch! Time constraints are often cited as a common reason why people do not spend time in nature. With fluctuating economy and pressing debt issues, we are forced to work longer hours, or find ourselves splitting between 2 or 3 jobs to keep up with bills and dreams. There are also such crucial participants in our lives as family and friends to add to the schedule. Entertainment media has entered our lives quite some time ago, and it found a solid spot there, bordering between giving us an outlet to relax and eating away our precious free time. In more recent years, social media proudly took the title of a Time-eating Monster, planting its roots deep into our schedules. A lot of us have even more commitments we have to comply with on a regular basis. Among all these important commitments and daily hassles, it is easy to regard self-care as the least important of them, dedicating very little time to it, if at all. This absence of self-care in light of busy schedules, challenging and demanding jobs/study programs, interpersonal relations, worries about future and financial stability increasingly more often lead to high levels of stress and extreme fatigue, at times even leading to a burnout or stress-related mental illness.
Understandably, for many the concept of self-care might seem like a luxury one cannot afford. However, do not fall for the claims of corporate producers and questionable know-how entrepreneurs trying to sell you another new product or service that promises that it is the only thing you would ever need to feel happy. There are many small lifestyle changes and inexpensive or free activities that you can add to your routine that will help you relax, unwind, return to your centre or even hold through a very challenging chapter in your life. You can refer to one of our articles for a list of pleasant activities to start with. You can chose the ones that you like, or make your own list.
As part of your journey of discovering the best self-care tools that suit your needs and preferences, consider exploring your relationship with nature. It has been know for a long time that interactions with nature are beneficial to general and mental health. Numerous studies have been conducted to explore this correlation. Exposure to nature and moving to countryside for a prolong period of time has been used by doctors as prescriptions for poor physical and mental health throughout the history of industrial world. Including readily accessible green spaces in cities is a part of urban planning and urban development research is partially due to the correlation between general and mental health and nature.
Social stress has been recognized as a risk factor for development of mental disorders. In addition, city living and urban social stress have shown evidence of being associated with increased prevalence of such disorders. In light of these factors, it is important to find accessible ways to support reduction of stress in urban population. Various modern studies indicate a strong association between availability of green space in cities and fewer cases of stress related mental illnesses. Some studies suggest that even availability of observable green space in the neighbourhood environment can have a positive effect on mental health. However, active participation in green spaces tops the charts of benefits to your general and mental health, offering stress reduction properties, immune function support, cognitive improvements, and much more. Some studies suggest that visiting forests away from the city that offer a serene feeling have even greater beneficial properties. Hopefully, these brief points will encourage you to explore ways to include nature in your self-care routine.
Remember – taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It is a necessity. As with many other issues in life, prevention is always a better choice than intervention. Taking care of yourself now will help you avoid a dangerous slippery slope of stress related issue in the future. Find self-care routines that are right for you and prioritize them while making your schedule.
And do not forget to visit a nearby park or forest. May I challenge you to do it this weekend? Maybe even today?
Annerstedt van den Bosch, M., Östergren, P.-O., Grahn, P., Skärbäck, E., & Währborg, P. (2015). Moving to Serene Nature May Prevent Poor Mental Health—Results from a Swedish Longitudinal Cohort Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(7), 7974-7989.
Lederbogen, F., Haddad, L., & Meyer-Lindenberg, A. (2013). Urban social stress – Risk factor for mental disorders. The case of schizophrenia. Environmental Pollution, 183, 2–6.
Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine,15(1), 9–17.
Nielsen, T. S. & Hansen, K. B. (2006). Nearby nature and green areas encourage outdoor activities and decrease mental stress. CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources, 1(059), 10.
Nutsford, D., Pearson, A. L., & Kingham, S. (2013). An ecological study investigating the association between access to urban green space and mental health. Public Health, 127(11), 1005–1011.
Selhub, E. M. & Logan, A. C. (2012). Your brain on nature: The science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness, and vitality. Toronto, ON: Collins.