Tips to survive the lockdown with the help of nature and the outdoors
Like many, during 2020 I spent a good part of my outdoor time at my local park. I got to learn about the trails, paths that weren’t paths, hidden beauty spots that I never paid attention to before. I also experimented with swopping directions of walk to make my local park feel more interesting and focusing my attention on one element at at time to pass the time. For example, I first started focusing on the trees, then the animals, the views, the flowers, the clouds. But I soon realised that I was running through them all too quickly, that I didn’t have enough categories to keep me going as the pandemic was progressing. I needed to narrow down my focus. Therefore, my attention was directed to birds, squirrels, leaves, puddles, rocks, roots pushing up into the tarmac, mud on green areas and ice forming on the pavement (a joyful addition as the list started shrinking more and more as time passed by). I got to get creative, and I am sure so did you.
I needed purpose on my walks. Or maybe I just needed purpose in my life after a year that saw all sorts of upside down, back and forth and whatever else happened.
I decided to put together a list of things that you could do when outdoors at your local park to bring something different to the time spent outdoors.
5 4 3 2 1
This is a grounding techniques that works wonders in nature. What you need to do is to name:
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
This grounding technique has the advantage of being usable in every space you find yourself in, whether it is indoor or outdoors. By bringing attention to the world around you, it gently grounds you to the present moment and may offer some relief and peace from overwhelm you may be experiencing.
This grounding technique works particularly well in nature, and that is because you are less likely to experience auditory and visual pollution than in more urbanised areas of the city. One tip, bring with you a hot drink (if that’s your preference) for the one thing to taste: it will bring comfort whilst grounding yourself.
This is one of my favourite things to do when I am outdoors, although not always possible. Earthing is the practice of connecting to the earth in terms of soil and ground. This technique invites you to get in contact and use the sense of touch to establish a connection with the world around you. It fosters soothe.
Think of that time when you walked barefoot on the beach: it felt good, right? You may not have a beach next to you, or it may be too cold now to walk without shoes on those icy grass patches, but maybe there is something soothing to connect to nature by physical touch even in winter times. Think of that crispy grass or the soil wet from thawed ice and embrace the dirt.
If you are curious on the benefits of earthing on both your mental and physical health, you can have a look at this article “Grounding: Exploring Earthing Science and the Benefits Behind It” by Debra Rose Wilson for Healthline.
Use up your energy
Sometimes focusing inwards doesn’t feel possible and that may be because there is too much going on. We wish we had a switch button that we could keep on "off" but reality is far from it. There is a wealthy body of research that supports connection with nature as being therapeutic for both mental and physical health. And there is also considerable research about the correlation between mental health and being active.
If you have the energy to do so, just put some shoes on and head for the closest green space to use and keep your body moving. One thing I find useful is not to think about this, just put shoes on and go outside, preferably first thing in the morning so I don't allow my brain the time to realise what I'm doing and stop me from doing it. If it is within your abilities and desire, go for a run, do jumping jacks, go power walking, just do anything that would help to defuse and slow down.
Some days, I need a couple of hours of being active before I can actually get my thoughts together and carry on with my day (a simple walk would do). But I don’t often have two-hours aside to get headspace when I need it. So I go for even 30 minutes just to get my body moving. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the best thing to do is to go under the covers with a cup of tea and switch off the brain with whatever’s on. Whatever works for you!
Share your indoor space with nature
This activity can involve anything from foraging (if you know what you are doing there) to picking small rocks or branches. You can collect natural material for a personal project or just for the aesthetics of it. For as long as collections are made with nature in mind (don’t take more than you need and don’t damage our natural resources - for example, bark should never be scrapped from the tree, rather, try and use what you can find on the ground), bringing nature inside is a way to feel connected to the other-than-human even when we are at home.
The possibilities are endless and I am inviting you to explore a bit further, maybe by trying to satisfy also other senses with smells and sounds from nature. For example, try to use and burn scents that remind you of nature (like, for example, pinon pine, douglas fir, juniper). Or find recordings on Youtube that remind you of tree fronds being lulled by the wind, waves crashing or birds singing. Whatever pleases your ears.
Last but not least, you can finally decide to give it a go and adopt a plant. And if you are thinking that maybe that’s not you, I would like to challenge you on that. I have never had the green thumb especially because of previous unsuccessful attempts of caring for one, until someone explained to me that I needed to match with a plant that could take the level of love I was willing to give. And since then, I have been a carer for an army of aloe plants and many others.
Sometimes, we are so focused on the things that are going on in our life then when we are outdoors we just go through nature passively. We don’t really acknowledge it nor give it the attention it deserves. Next time you go fora walk at your local park, go with the intention to befriend nature around you. Go and say "hi" to the squirrels playing on the trees. Use trees to stretch. Confide to the bushes and trees and other living beings and let go of some of that heavy stuff that you are carrying with you. Befriend nature.
If you live in the city, go and explore your local parks: they have a lot to offer and you can experiment these techniques in each one of them. And if you feel adventurous, you could also try one or more techniques in each parks and see what differences and similarities you notice.
And if all of this doesn't feel enough, you could always focus on those tiny details I described at the beginning of this blog post. Just mind, it can become everything you ever see!