- Earth Day is a reminder of the amazing planet we live on and our responsibilities to care for it.
- While many of us are not climate experts or environmental scientists, we all have a relationship with the earth.
- Some ways to rekindle a relationship to the earth include taking time to simply be in nature and allowing it to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Other tips for getting closer to nature include letting nature inspire introspection and experiencing the natural world as a spiritual place.
This morning, during a rare moment of solitude and silence, I was able to take a few minutes to reflect on gratitude. Today, being Earth Day, I thought about the gratitude I have for the bounty of gifts the earth gives me every day; from the songbirds that wake me in the morning, to the rolling fluff of clouds that greet me as I leave my office, to the orange glow of the sunset.
Although Earth Day is a celebration, it is also a day of somber reflection. Earth day started in 1970 as a public acknowledgement of the rapid destruction of natural resources, places and species at the hands of humans. Since then, it has served as a day of action and a symbolic reminder of this amazing planet that provides for us, as well as our responsibility toward it.
While many of us are not climate experts, environmental scientists, inspiring activists, or policymakers (for whom I am thankful), we all have a relationship with this planet. All relationships, especially ones important to our health and wellbeing, need attention, care, and nurturing.
So on this Earth Day, rekindle your relationship to the earth. As therapists, we ask our clients to reflect on the intimacy of important relationships, including physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual connections. We also know that good relationships need reciprocity. What is working and what needs care? How is the relationship nurturing you and how can you support the relationship? Here are some thoughts on ways to rekindle your relationship to the earth.
Physical: Immerse Yourself in Nature
Ways to nurture the self: Being physically in nature engages all our senses and helps calm our nervous system. The gentle act of walking in the woods has been empirically shown to boost wellbeing and reduce cortisol (Park et al., 2010). If we cannot physically be in nature, we can bring nature to us. Infusing natural elements in our work and living spaces can bring similar effects to being in nature (Aries, Newsham, & Veitch, 2010). Even watching nature on TV or electronic devices does us good and can be especially healing in hospitals and other care facilities (Raanaas, Patil, & Hartig, 2012).
Call to action: Access to nature is not equitable to all people. Indigenous cultures have lost access to their sacred natural spaces. People of color have less access to safe natural spaces and are more likely to suffer from the consequences of climate change, such as pollution and natural disasters (Rowland-Shea, Doshi, Edberg, & Fanger, 2020). Support change, advocacy and get involved in preserving or caring for natural spaces.
Emotional: Let Nature Heal You
Ways to nurture the self: The natural world, just by being there for you, provides you with healing grace. In as little as five minutes, the natural world can reduce stress and anxiety and boost creativity (Williams, 2017). The benefits of nature are especially powerful during this global pandemic when many are quarantined to small, shared spaces.
Call to action: All things that give us nurturing — parents, grandparents, pets, plants — need emotional care too. Most of the natural world is voiceless, although if you pay attention, it is loudly speaking to us. Earth Day is just one day of the year that many voices are heard. Harness your emotions into committable actions, like ways you can reduce your impact on the earth and using your special talents to care for it.
Intellectual: Look for Metaphors
Ways to nurture the self: The earth provides us with daily metaphors for introspection: spring allows us time to reflect on rebirth and renewal; the winter gives us space to rest and restore. Recently, a client stopped to watch a slow-moving insect and realized that she moved so fast, she never took the time to stop, breathe and reflect. These types of metaphors are abundant if you are observant enough to notice.
Of course, the earth constantly inspires scientists to continue learning about its amazing complexities.
Call to action: Be an advocate for your local environment and learn about the plants and animals native to your community. For example, when you are gardening or planting, use native, non-invasive species. Get to know your own place in space.
Spiritual: Experience Nature with All Your Senses
Ways to nurture the self: Many people experience nature as a very spiritual place. If you are looking to expand your relationship with the natural world, experience it with your five senses. Touch, smell, listen and observe the natural world by just sitting in one place for a period of time. Go back to that place throughout the year to watch the seasons change. Get to deeply know and feel grounded in this sacred place.
Another way to connect to the earth is to observe and/or experience the elements — air, water and fire. For example, humans have been sitting by fire for thousands of years. It is a meditative and mesmerizing experience just sitting near and watching a fire. Many people are deeply connected to water and feel a spiritual connection while being near the ocean or a stream.
Call to action: Developing a connection to nature requires safe access to the natural world. We must work toward dismantling systems of injustice that unfairly target people of color. Support communities of color connect and reconnect to the natural world and have safe access to nature.
Aries, M.B.C., Newsham, G.R., & Veitch, J.A. (2010). Windows, view, and office characteristics predict physical and psychological discomfort. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30,533-541.
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 18-26.
Raanaas, R. K., Patil, G. G., & Hartig, T. (2012). Health benefits of a view of nature through the window: a quasi-experimental study of patients in a residential rehabilitation center. Clinical rehabilitation, 26(1), 21-32.
Rowland-Shea, J. E. N. N. Y., Doshi, S., Edberg, S., & Fanger, R. (2020). The Nature Gap Confronting Racial and Economic Disparities in the Destruction and Protection of Nature in America. Center for American Progress. https://www. americanprogress. org/issues/green/reports/2020/07/21/487787/the-nature-gap.
Williams, F. (2017). The nature fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative. WW Norton & Company.