This is blog post number 100! At the beginning, I wasn’t sure I had enough to write about for more than 3 or 4 posts. It’s been great fun so far to write – and talk – with people, discovering your interest in learning different viewpoints on that green spread of nature around your house. Thank you for your support!
On to today’s topic: Reducing depression through nature just outside your windows.
Over the past few years, The Journal of Environmental Psychology has reported on studies of people’s moods and sense of vitality before and after spending time in nature with other people. These studies were carefully controlled for the effects of physical and social activity.
They found that an additional effect of happiness and feeling more alive was due to just being outdoors, and that this effect lasted over time from exposure to nature of just 20 minutes a day.
Ask yourself, “How can I use this information in my life?” It’s unfortunately a fact that the number of people experiencing depression rises substantially among the elderly.
If you yourself are aging, or you have aging parents, you can use “the outdoors” around the house to improve your mood and increase your sense of vitality.
I’m not saying that the yard is a cure for depression, but 20 minutes a day could be a way to reduce the depth and longevity of depression. Taking yourself outside might be better than depression-treating drugs that are costly and have side effects to cope with.
How can you get started if you have a plain old yard that looks like all the others in your neighborhood?
Get a sitting spot.
You’re not going to stand comfortably for 20 minutes, are you? Find a comfortable outdoor chair. If it’s a ratty folding lawn chair at the end of its life, add an inexpensive cushion to make sure you are really comfortable. Add a small table to hold a cup of coffee or a cool drink. Even an upturned bucket could work to get you started.
Find something pleasant to look at.
In even the simplest yards, nature is always providing fascination to view. If you just have one tree in the yard, for example, you could look at the branching pattern. Ask yourself why the tree branches grew the way they did. Evaluate the tree’s shape to determine if it’s symmetrical or lopsided. Compare it to trees in other nearby yards to see whether they are growing in similar ways, maybe because there is a strong pevalent wind that is shaping them all, such as you would find in coastal areas.
Close your eyes and allow your other senses to take charge.
Feel the sun or the breeze on your face and skin. If you’re in the sun, contrast the warmth of your nose with the warmth of your chin, or the coolness of your face with the coolness of your arms and legs. Notice any sounds from birds, insects or amphibians such as frogs. Listen for any patterns or changes in location of the sound-makers over that 20 minutes.
Check out the same location on a daily basis for a month.
Notice similarities and differences. You may want to keep a journal, jotting down your experiences each day when you return inside your home. A simple lined notebook and a pencil are fine. A laptop or tablet computer can be used, too, but you can find yourself wishing to take notes while you’re outside sometimes. And research has shown there’s a strong connection between heart, mind, and hand. Writing or drawing in your journal helps to relive your outdoor experiences. Read them again, using your imagination to explore when you are not able to get outside.
If you find yourself looking at your yard, thinking it’s ugly and you hate it, stop for a minute. Ponder on that thought. Do you really hate the yard, or are you tired and depressed and not really noticing nature?
Try 20 minutes a day outside and see what you can find to enjoy in even the most drab and boring yard!
Two previous posts you might enjoy reading:
Tips to entice Baby Boomers outside 7/26/2014