What is self-care?
As the word states, it involves taking care of ourselves. Now, given that we are all unique beings, our self-care will look different from person to person – but that’s the point! Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all; rather, it’s something individually tailored to you that you’ve come to understand is helpful and beneficial for you personally. So, how can we prioritize incorporating self-care into our daily routines?
I’d recommend starting with things you’re already doing that help lift your mood, in addition to leveraging the seasons and nature! Let’s explore how nature can help our self-care and overall well-being. In this blog post, we’ll chat about the many benefits of being out in nature, walking barefoot on grass, listening to birds sing, the impacts of Vitamin D, and suggestions for self-care tips.
Nature and Wellbeing
According to the American Psychological Association, “Spending time in nature is linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health and emotional well-being.” (Weir, 2020). This article also found that, feeling connected to nature can produce similar benefits to well-being, regardless of how much time one spends outdoors. [And] both green spaces and blue spaces (aquatic environments) produce well-being benefits. More remote and biodiverse spaces may be particularly helpful, though even urban parks and trees can lead to positive outcomes.
Essentially, research supports that all kinds of natural environments have positive effects on our mental and physical health. In fact, the Mental Health Foundation has found that,
Research shows that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile. Nature can generate many positive emotions, such as calmness, joy, and creativity and can facilitate concentration … Nature connectedness is also associated with lower levels of poor mental health, particularly lower depression and anxiety (n.d.).
This same article mentioned how time in nature also encourages pro-environmental behaviors such as buying local and seasonal food, recycling, and demonstrating further considerations and care towards our environment.
This brings us to forest bathing. Robbins has found that “Japanese researchers have studied “forest bathing” — a poetic name for walking in the woods” (2020), and believe aerosols inhaled from the forest during a walk can lead to higher levels of Natural Killer (NK) cells within our immune system. This helps us fight tumors and infections. Ontario Parks (2022) mentions that forest bathing, or forest therapy, came to fruition in Japan in the 1980s and has since generated scientific evidence to prove the multitude of health benefits being outdoors in nature provides. This article stated that, because of this, forest bathing became an integral part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine … The idea is that when humans spend time in a natural setting, especially under the canopy of a forest, they experience rejuvenating benefits to the mind, body and spirit.
Now, if you’re unable to access a forest environment as often as you would like, what about a window? The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has found that “Some studies even suggest that just having a window view from an apartment or work office that overlooks a natural setting can enhance memory, attention, impulse control, and one’s subjective well-being” (n.d.). So, if you can spend some time outdoors, or even just look outside, science says that’ll positively affect your mental and physical health. I challenge you to consider doing this; after all, what’s the harm in trying to embrace nature more often?
We’ve chatted about forest bathing, so now let’s delve into earthing. Schwartz (2022) explains, Earthing, also known as grounding, involves standing or walking barefoot on the ground. This can be done on the grass in your yard, soil or mud in a nearby park or forest, or sand at the beach. The goal is to walk barefoot while paying close attention to the soles of your feet as they connect with the earth’s surface.
Why should we try earthing? Schwartz has found that it has many benefits, including: it feels good to us, it provides a sensory experience, builds mindfulness, results in health benefits (such as reducing pain, inflammation, lowering stress, and improving sleep due to the electrical charge from the earth that neutralizes free radicals in our body), and it also allows us to connect to benefits of the soil (2022). Did you know that there’s a microscopic bacteria found in soil that can improve mental health? This puts a whole new spin to the phrase “rub some dirt on it”. Mud bath, anyone?
Listening to Birds
Another amazing part of being outdoors is having the opportunity to listen to dozens of melodies from chirping, singing birds nearby. Burke (2023) has found that “Seeing and hearing birds can improve well-being … Bird exposure is effective for those suffering with depression, or without … They can bring longer lasting psychological, intellectual, and social well-being”. If you don’t live nearby nature or birds, try playing a recording! This can be just as helpful and beneficial as hearing live birds. Similarly to looking outside a window, bird recordings are a small, accessible option many folks can easily incorporate into their daily routines.
Janz & Pearson (n.d.) have stated that “Vitamin D plays an important role in bone growth and maintenance because it helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus”. When people have low levels of vitamin D, children could become prone to rickets (“a condition characterized by soft bones and skeletal deformities”), whereas adults could suffer from osteoporosis (being decreased bone mass). These authors claim that vitamin D has many benefits including “lowering the risk of breast and colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease in men, and multiple sclerosis”. That being said, did you know that vitamin D is unique because the body can produce it through exposure to sun, while other vitamins need to be ingested? “That is why it is commonly known as the sunshine vitamin”. All the more reason to benefit from some time outside! The authors also mentioned that 32% of Canadians fall below the recommended vitamin D levels, with this number subject to increase to 40% during the winters. Almost half of Canadians are deficient and often require supplements to obtain healthy levels. I hope this information serves as a push to bask in the sun during the very, very short summer months in efforts to soak up as much vitamin D as we can!
Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
Now, we’ve gone over several benefits to being outdoors in nature. Here’s a summary below provided by Mind (2021) and McMaster University (n.d.) on what some of those benefits are:
Improve your mood
Help you take time out and feel more relaxed. Increased feelings of calmness
Improve your physical health
Improve your confidence and self-esteem
Help you be more active
Help you meet and get to know new people
Connect you to your local community
Reduce loneliness and reduced feelings of isolation
Help you feel more connected to nature
Increased endorphin levels and dopamine production (promotes happiness)
Restored capacity for concentration and attention
Lowered blood pressure and reduced cortisol (stress hormone)
Self-care Tips and Ideas To close, let’s leave you with some ideas on how you could leverage nature to promote self-care. Here’s our list of suggestions below. Please feel free to make your own!
Take a walk or hike nearby
Go to the beach and play with the sand (benefits of engaging our inner child)
Play a sport
Talk to your plants (they like it when you tell them nice things!)
Hug a tree
Join a yoga in the park event
Read a book outside
Watch the leaves move in the wind and just breathe. Feel the sun on your skin
Try a body scan mindfulness practice outside
Feed the birds or squirrels!
Look out the window for a few seconds in between tasks
Burke, J. (2023, January 5). How seeing and listening to birds can improve well-being. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-good-life-ritual/202301/how-seeing-and-listening-to-birds-can-improve-well-being
CAMH. (n.d.). Nature can have a nurturing effect on your mental health. https://www.camh.ca/en/camh-news-and-stories/nature-can-have-a-nurturing-effect-on-your-mental-health
Janz, T. & Pearson, C. (n.d.). Vitamin D blood levels of Canadians. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11727-eng.htm
McMaster University. (2021, October 5). 7 benefits of spending time in nature. https://wellness.mcmaster.ca/7-benefits-of-spending-time-in-nature/
Mental Health Foundation. (n.d.). Nature: How connecting with nature benefits our mental health. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/research/nature-how-connecting-nature-benefits-our-mental-health
Mind. (2021). Nature and mental health. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/how-nature-benefits-mental-health/
Ontario Parks. (2022, August 21). Healing in the forest: A guide to forest bathing. https://www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/guide-forest-bathing/
Robbins, J. (2020, January 9). Ecopsychology: How immersion in nature benefits your health. Yale Environment 360. https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health
Schwartz, S. (2022, May 26). Discover the mental health benefits of walking barefoot and earthing. Ecohappiness Project. https://ecohappinessproject.com/benefits-of-walking-barefoot/
Weir, K. (2020, April 1). Nurtured by nature. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature