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Nature Helps Us Connect While We Are Socially Distant

How the natural world can be our sanctuary during stressful times.

I am writing this from home with my husband, showing coronavirus symptoms (fever and cough) has been quarantined the past week in the guest bedroom. My kids and I are figuring out our new, albeit temporary, normal. I am juggling the tasks of mom, nursemaid, school teacher, special education instructor, dog walker, cook, house-keeper, tele-health counselor, university professor and, quite frankly, I’m doing a mediocre job at best. My kids are missing their dad and their friends and their afterschool activities. And while waking up later and wearing PJs and having access to snacks 24/7 has its perks, it’s going to get old fast.

Still. It’s the right thing to do. And we all should for everyone else.

To cope (well, so I can cope), we are taking long walks outside. The weather here in New Jersey, has been getting a little bit better and we are taking advantage of the sunshine. On the weekends, we are exploring our incredible county parks—taking hikes on new trails, picnicking in the woods, spending time together as a family. I’ve noticed that everyone says hello more than they used to. Families walking together, keeping a safe distance, nod and say hi. I suspect that this is helping us maintain our need for connection, something likely we are all craving.

Something else we all crave is nature. A growing body of research suggests that spending time in nature is scientifically good for human’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. In particular, research supports a strong connection between spending time in nature and mental well-being including improved ability to concentrate, positive changes in self-concept, stress reduction, fewer symptoms related to depression, and rejuvenation from mental fatigue. Overwhelmingly, research has shown that people who are better connected to nature feel more centered and calm and experience less anxiety.

Source: Megan Delaney
A walk in the woods.
Source: Megan Delaney

My name is Megan Delaney and I am an ecotherapist and a counselor educator. When not in quarantine, I work at Monmouth University, on the coast of New Jersey. I teach in the Department of Professional Counseling, where my amazing students are learning to become licensed professional counselors. My favorite course to teach is Ecotherapy—each week we are outside doing some form of ecotherapy (forest bathing, guided nature meditations, equine therapy, gardening, working with animals, walking and talking in the woods, enjoying all the metaphors of nature). I also have a private ecotherapy practice. My outdoor sessions with clients involve walking familiar trails throughout our wonderful parks. I look forward to writing here, on this space in Psychology Today, to help share what I am passionate about—our connection to nature and ways in which we can infuse nature into our practice and our own self-care and ways that we can care for nature.

For now, take good care—and take yourself and, with safety, enjoy the benefits of nature.