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Nature’s Connection to Emotional Well-Being

While the connection between nature and mental health may not be entirely shocking, just how strong the connection is, and how much of an impact nature has on emotional well-being can be enlightening to many individuals. While this concept may seem simple, there’s actually more to this process of connection than simply standing outside and staring at a tree. Today’s fast paced world where many things are easily accessible to us leaves few things to be awed or inspired by. 

We frequently hear about practicing gratitude and the importance this practice has in overall happiness, but what about taking the time to experience awe? Start by asking yourself, when’s the last time you paused to think about something long enough to be amazed by it. I’ve become aware, from asking myself this, that I frequently approach things as something on a “to do” list and not necessarily something to be enjoyed or reveled in. I make sure to get outside and take a walk each day, but am I actually getting everything out of these moments that I can be, or am I just going through the motions trying to get to the next thing. These questions helped me determine how I approach things and allowed me to shift how I show up to things I experience in my life.  

Researchers at UC San Francisco created a study where participants were to experience “awe” while taking 15-minute walks. Now this may sound a bit odd, an “awe walk”. How does one experience awe on demand? Well, it may be helpful to understand how “awe” is defined. “Awe is a positive emotion triggered by awareness of something vastly larger than the self and not immediately understandable -such as nature, art, music, or being caught up in a collective act such as a ceremony, concert or political march.” Given this definition, experiencing awe happens by cultivating awareness. When the research participants began bringing awareness to the external world around them, instead of focusing inward on themselves, they revealed a growing sense of wonder and appreciation for nature. The more wonder, appreciation, and awe of nature that’s cultivated, the better emotional well-being that’s present. 

As we continue moving through autumn and leaves change color and fall, it creates a wonderful environment to begin practicing “awe walks”. When on your walk, take the time to breathe in the crisp chill in the air, feel the air on your body and face, look around at the different colors of the leaves on the trees, maybe there’s some blue peeking through the sky above. Ask yourself how all of these things came to be. Make the conscious decision to shift your energy and attention outward instead of inward. Take out your headphones, turn off your podcast or music. Listen to the sounds around you. If you’re lucky you may be able to hear kids laughing, birds chirping, dogs barking, and potentially even spot some Halloween decorations as you continue on your walk. 

If everything discussed above isn’t enough to highlight the importance of this practice, “…experiencing awe can contribute to a host of benefits including an expanded sense of time and enhanced feelings of generosity, well-being, and humility.” The strength of the connection between experiencing awe in nature and mental health is undeniable. If we can improve our overall well-being by simply taking, and appreciating, a 15-minute walk, each and every one of us has the ability to make the choice to implement positive change in our daily lives.  

If you or someone you know is struggling to improve your overall well-being, it may be useful to connect with a counselor in Chicago. Visit Symmetry Counseling or call 312-578-9990 to make an appointment with one of our skilled therapists today!

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