We all need it, and when you were young, you craved it daily. That magic little green pill.
If I think back to when I was a kid, most of my memories were of being outdoors. I was either playing with friends, siblings, animals, or an imaginary friend. I was so fortunate to be brought up in the country, where I could wander into the trees a few feet from my house and start my imaginary play.
If you have kids now, you are likely reminded how much they want to be outside. Their need to run, jump, swing, bike, scooter, skateboard, ski, etc.
Why do we crave it so much? There are many reasons. Here are a few.
Nature stimulates the dopamine centres of the brain. When dopamine is released so are the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline. As a child, you paired the activity of being in nature to feeling good. We were ‘free’. Therefore, you are wired to seek and perpetuate this activity.
The act of being in nature often makes us active. Activity alone stimulates dopamine, so now you are getting a double dose of the feel-good chemicals. But not everyone has the need to be active to get what they are craving. I have had many of my clients remark how simply sitting on their deck, backyard, porch, balcony, or sunroom is enough to bring happiness.
Another likely co-occurrence of being outdoors is the chance of either seeing people or talking to a neighbour. Connection, especially during the pandemic, is yet another method of triggering the reward centres of your brain.
Earlier, I mentioned playing with animals. As an adult, we are drawn towards the care of animals. Also, we often see, feel, and hear animals in nature. Bird song, bunnies hopping, squirrels chirping, or deer sightings are common these days. Hearing and seeing acts of nature puts us in a state of awe. It connects us to wonderment and a higher power.
Spirituality humbles us. It takes us away from our egocentric tendencies and realigns us to our core values while reminding us of our flawed souls. There is something bigger and better than self and we would do best to serve it.
The sense of smell is also known to have a tremendous effect on our mood. Currently, the beautiful scents of lilacs and grass cuttings fill the Manitoba air. Soon the flax and canola fields will be blooming across the prairie landscape.
Are you getting the picture? It is like our body is switched from OFF to ON when we enter nature. It is a sure-fire way of stepping into the present since it is very hard to ignore the sights, sounds, feel, and scents of nature.
“ It is like our body is switched from OFF to ON when we enter nature.“
There are many studies supporting the idea of nature shifting us towards happiness. One study that comes to mind was completed with groups of seniors comparing levels of happiness while living in long-term care facilities. One group had pictures of nature in their common rooms and suites (note: simply pictures – not actually plants) and the other group did not. After months of this type of exposure the groups were given questionnaires and well, you can likely guess the outcome. Those surrounded by images of nature were less depressed. Another similar study of seniors looked at the impact of caring for plants. One group was given plants to care for while the other group was not. The group needing to take care of a living organism (I am guessing there would be similar benefits seen if it was an animal or another human being) were happier at a statistical level of significance.
This post would not be complete if I didn’t mention the benefit of sunshine as a medium to obtain adequate levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D has been in the limelight as of late with Covid-19 touting its immune boosting properties. If you don’t think sunshine and vitamin D is related to your health, then you need to read up on Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It is a real thing. And instead of calling it ‘flu season’, we should be calling it ‘Vitamin D deficient season’. In other words, there is a reason that flu and cold season happens when daylight dwindles. Sunshine is the cause and the cure. Nature is free and readily available. You won’t have to ask your kids or your dog twice either. They will likely race you to the door.
Meanwhile, do me a favor – take your vitamin N and call me (your therapist) in the morning.
Good night and sleep well.