April 22nd was the official celebration of a holiday we should honor all year long: Earth Day began in 1970, when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson decided to try to direct the enthusiasm of the protest movements of the era toward concrete change in the face of growing alarm about environmental concerns.
And his efforts have paid off: As a result of the first Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency was founded and the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts were passed. Earth Day also raised a conversation about the importance of sustainability of our ecosystems and being good stewards of the planet. But as we seek the most effective ways to keep our planet healthy, it turns out it’s been doing a pretty good job returning the favor.
How Nature Sustains Us
Studies have shown that people who are aware of their symbiotic relationship with nature tend to be happier and have better overall mental health. While lack of time in the outdoors contributes to obesity and depression in youth, children in learning environments in which they have access to fresh air and greenery have seen improved test scores.
Recalling her childhood and adolescence in 1960s and ‘70s suburbia, one therapist noted that gardening with her father enhanced their bond. She’d get dirt on her hands and knees as she worked with him to decide what to plant, in addition to clearing the plot, scattering the seeds, weeding and watering the sprouting crops, and finally harvesting the bounty. The practice taught her patience and teamwork. As a teen, she joined the ecology club at school and volunteered at the local recycling center.
Today, she still recycles avidly, supports environmental causes, takes time each day to commune with the outdoors and brings it indoors in the form of plants she finds pleasing to the eye and soothing to the soul. She encourages her clients to immerse themselves in the wild by appreciating flora and fauna.
Take a Mother Nature Break
The wonderful thing about nature — besides all its restorative effects — is that you don’t have to go far to find it. These activities can help you feel more connected to the great outdoors:
- Walk barefoot in the soil or sand
- Hug a tree
- Dig in the dirt by gardening
- Go rock climbing or rappelling
- Plant a rooftop, balcony or window garden, even if you live in the city
- Volunteer to be part of neighborhood garden cleanup
- Join a community-supported agriculture group
- Spend time by the ocean, breathing in the sea-salt air, which provides the added benefits of negative ions
- Stroll or hike in a park
- Ride a bicycle along a country road
- Canoe or row a boat on a lake
- Whitewater raft
- Visit an arboretum
- Splash in puddles
- Lie on the grass and watch clouds roll by
- Notice as many different species of plants and animals as you can while outside
- Consider attending a wilderness program
Nature also teaches us a great deal about how to manage our lives. It shows us that the seasons of our lives bring about change, that we can evolve and adapt to face life’s circumstances, and that there are some things over which we simply have no control.