The WWI English poet, Ivor Gurney, volunteered for active service in an attempt to alleviate his mental illness. The comradeship, the challenge, and the vigorous exercise helped him for a while, but in the end the brutality of war, and seeing his friends die around him, only worsened his mental and emotional struggles.
Much of what Gurney wrote about in his poetry was the Gloucestershire countryside where he grew up and the happy days he spent walking through the woods and hills of the Cotswolds. It seemed the longer he spent in the trenches, the more he longed for the idyllic landscape he knew so well.
For someone as creative as Gurney, who was also a pianist and a composer, he must have been a sensitive person as well. And to me that suggests that it was not only the memories of home that filled his thoughts and his notebook, but the sense of peace and tranquillity he found in those long, country walks.
For most sensitive people, there is an instinctive longing for the natural world, and the fulfilment of that longing frequently results in what can only be described as sublime. HSPs not only enjoy time spent in nature, but we need it. Our sensitive nervous systems can easily become saturated by the bombardment of sights, sounds, smells and speed of modern life, especially a life lived in a city. Our jobs and our lives have become juggling acts, with demands placed upon our time and our ability to multi-task. And most highly sensitive people are diligent, dedicated and don’t want to let anyone down. So we take it on, the traffic, the spreadsheets, the emails and phone calls, the school run. We take it all on and eventually find ourselves slipping beneath the weight of it all. Fortunately, nature can give us a break from that stress.
There are several reasons why highly sensitive people in particular can benefit from walking in nature:
1. The chance to go somewhere quiet, like the woods or a river walk, provides the reprieve from the noise that taxes our sensitive nerves.
2. When we spend time alone, we are rewarded with the peace of only our own thoughts for company. Most HSPs are introverts, which means that we gain energy from being alone and so constantly spending time with other people, no matter how much we like them, can quickly drain our reserves and leave us feeling rattled and edgy. Solitude is not selfish, it is a necessity, as much as food and water. It is something we need on a regular basis.
3. Natural elements like plants, trees, water and sunlight have been said to absorb negative energy. Perhaps we feel calmer around them simply because they are part of the living world and so we feel connected to them, and yet they do not make any demands on us except to appreciate them. Take a walk in a quiet forest or a country path, notice the beauty all around you and feel the tension and stress evaporate.
4. Walking provides a significant benefit because it helps to relieve stress. Brisk walking boosts endorphins, the feel-good hormones that improve your mood and lower stress and mild depression. Walking gives you more energy, which also improves your positive feelings.
5. According to recent research, walking through green spaces can put the brain into a meditative state, allowing you to pay attention to the world around you, while creating the calmness needed for reflection. It’s in this calm, quiet reflective state where our creativity can flourish.
Both sensitivity and creativity blossom best when we give ourselves the time to walk in the natural world, as Ivor Gurney discovered too late. And while countryside walks cannot cure mental illness, the combination of exercise, solitude, quiet and the beauty of the natural world can be incredibly calming and restorative. For highly sensitive people, it is essential to our health, well-being and happiness.