I am very fond of our couch, don’t get me wrong! But since I’ve become more aware of the state of our environment, I’ve been looking at life in a different way. There’s been a lot of reading and researching, and maybe getting older (‘wiser’ 😉) or even being a mum and seeing how quickly my kids are growing – have brought on a few realisations!
There are those based around my actions, such as being ‘present’ when I’m spending time with my kids and paying attention to daily moments I’d generally take for granted. Like the the smile on my kid’s faces when I pick them up from school, appreciating that first sip of really warm tea in the morning (when I manage to drink it warm!), or of how relaxed you instantly feel when you step into a warm shower at night (yes, I like warm things).
I get that same feeling of instant relaxation and contentment and peace when I spend a good portion of time outdoors. That’s one of the biggest realisations I’ve made over the past year.
It may not seem like much of one, but my husband and I have been going for bushwalks with the kids for a few years now, and we’ve always enjoyed it and felt so much better in ourselves after going. The same goes for every outdoor activity we take part in. But I never really looked too much into it until I started reading more about our environment in the last year.
My reading started more around the negative impacts we are having on the planet, but at one point I turned my attention towards what positive impact the environment has on us.
“Simply escaping out into nature provides the freedom, relaxation and physical activity, which is needed and known to have a positive impact on mental states such as anxiety and depression.”
Dr Rona Weerasuriya, Deakin UniversityHealth, Nature and Sustainability Research Group Associate Researcher. Benefits of #Greendesking – The Nature Conservancy Australia
Promoting More Outside Time
At the end of last year I introduced a Friday after-school activity to the boys – ‘Free Fun Friday’. They could choose an activity that was ‘free’ and ‘fun’ after a big week at school.
You know what is generally free and fun? The outdoors! Parks, beaches, bushwalks, playing in the backyard. Generally we only take it indoors to play board games or cards at home if they are too tired and have no energy (rarely) or if it’s raining… but even that can be fun!
‘Research has found that exposure to the great outdoors can help your mental energy bounce back. Even looking at pictures of nature has proved beneficial.’
We are lucky enough to have a park just metres down the road from the boy’s school, so often we’ll head down there for a play.
After a full day at school, and particularly towards the end of the week, they start getting tired and cranky. I find a trip to the park after school is a great mood booster. I often have to drag them away to go home, but we leave much happier than we arrived!
‘Forest environments promoted lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity. All proof… that our bodies relax in the natural surroundings where they evolved.’
From a 2010 study by Japanese researchers who sent 280 subjects to walk in 24 different forests and city centres across Japan. Green therapy: how getting out in nature can save your brain – SBS
By far our favourite outdoor, family activity is bushwalking.
My husband and I, and the boys, are always in a substantially improved frame of mind afterward compared to how we are before we start.
Trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that causes the positive change in our mood and energy is hard, but a combination of the beautiful sights and natural sounds of birds and rustling leaves definitely calms and grounds me. The air smells fresher, it feels easier to breathe in the bush, and I love placing my palm on the trunk of a tree. I just did it on impulse one day and it just made me feel grounded. It’s actually amazing how instantaneous the feeling of winding down is when you have trees and nature surrounding you.
I know this all sounds very philosophical and soul-searching, but it’s true. Bushwalking is like our unfailing magic potion for a mood boost.
‘“Urbanization is a potential threat to mental health and well-being”. Nature, on the other hand, nurtures us and boosts our moods, acting as a sort of antidote to modern life.’
2012 study by researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School. Green therapy: how getting out in nature can save your brain – SBS
I haven’t lived near the beach my whole life. I used to live in inner west Sydney with my mum, and as a weekend treat maybe twice a year, my mum would drive us 1.5 hours to Austinmer beach and we would spend the day there. I always remember, to this day, the excitement and awe I would feel as we’d travel down Bulli Pass and spot the first glimpse of the beautiful blue ocean through the trees.
I was so lucky that my parents were able to move to Bulli when I was in University… and literally down the road from Austinmer beach! While I always love going to the beach, in my late 20s I got busy with work, I grew accustomed to the beach being so close and started taking it for granted.
However, in the last couple of years my husband and I have become avid beach-goers again, and come to realise how different we feel after a trip there, either with the boys, or even on our own.
Bare feet in the sand, the warm sun, swimming in natural salt water, the sound of the surf and seagulls, building sandcastles with the kids. Everyone is relaxed and chilled out and just enjoying the moment. It’s pure bliss!
If the boys are tired, sometimes my husband and I take turns to go on our own. Just 30 minutes, and for me it’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I honestly feel at peace while I’m there. The relaxed and happy feeling fortunately does last even after we’ve come home… so it’s easier to deal with parenting life that afternoon!
Front or Backyard Play
An hour of fun, with bare feet, in our grassed backyard (or sometimes our front yard) is sometimes all it takes to get us smiling and laughing whether we want to enjoy some outside time, are a little stressed or need to be perked up.
We will kick the soccer ball around, do forward rolls and cartwheels, play chasing games or totem tennis, and on hot days get the sprinkler out. That’s all it takes to have some fun and improve our mood.
Conclusion – Get Outdoors!
‘After analysing mental health data from over 10,000 people, using high-resolution mapping to track where they had lived over 18 years, the English researchers found that people living near more green space reported less mental distress and higher well-being.’
I understand not everyone has a backyard or may not live near a park, beach or the bush. If none of these outdoor options are available to you then bring some greenery inside and open the windows! Plants freshen the air and some are said to even remove toxins.
Do whatever you can to fit in some outdoor time and enjoy what’s natural and free in our world.
It’s another important reason why we need to look after our environment – by finding ways to reduce our plastic and carbon usage, and especially planting more trees!