It’s no secret spending time with nature can lower stress and lead to a happier life. But sometimes people don’t know where to start. They feel overwhelmed by all the choices and unsure what to do. What’s more, a lot of folks have hardly spent time with nature. Maybe this is you. If so, there’s good news. You can discover your green personality regardless. All it takes is a little self-exploration.
Exploring Your History With Nature
Let’s start with my Green Personality exercise from Leaf Your Troubles Behind. The first step is to get a piece of lined paper and a pen. Then answer this question: what is your first memory related to plants or a natural landscape? How old were you? Where were you? Now write for as long as you can about that experience. If another more powerful experience pops in your head, follow that image and write in detail about it. Try to remember who you were with, the time of day, the sounds and smells around you. Make it vivid.
If this doesn’t jog your memory, try this: make a list of your favorite people from your childhood. Did you ever enjoy a nature-related activity with that person? If so, what was it? And why did you like it?
If there are no joyful memories, is there a sad one? What did it feel like? Describe that in as much detail as you can. Then, when you’ve got it all down on paper, start a new paragraph. How can you reclaim that experience and turn it into a good one? What can you do differently? You have the power to change your life for the better.
Maybe you’re still in need of ideas, so here’s another prompt: if money and time weren’t an issue, what natural experience would you like to do? Would you hike in Hawaii? Camp in a forest? Grow exotic houseplants? Or just have a beautiful little garden in which to sit? You’re only bound by your imagination.
Making Sense of the Memories
Now, from all that you’ve written, circle the words describing positive feelings. Like “enjoyed” or “peaceful” or “fun” or “accepted,” etc. Then circle the activities that appeal to you. Maybe it’s kayaking on a placid lake. It could be riding a bike down a country road. Maybe it’s shopping at a plant nursery or puttering among tomato plants.
Next, put those feelings and activities together and see if you can create a mission statement. Like I want to [nature activity] so I can feel [positive emotions]. This is what will guide you going forward.
This may seem like a lot of work but discovering your green personality is key. You need to know how you’d like to spend time in nature in a way that’s right for you! And once you have your mission statement, you’ll never be confused. You’ll have a north star to guide you on your journey toward stress relief and a green wellness practice.
If you want more information on that practice, you can buy Leaf Your Troubles Behind, or watch my upcoming webinar, available in April, 2023.
I’m a big advocate of journaling. Writing out one’s thoughts and feelings has enormous health benefits and helps us work out the problems of our lives. Psychologists say it helps reduce stress, boosts our mood, keeps our memory sharp, and even helps our immune system. So what’s even more interesting is how journaling in nature seems to be more powerful. Here’s why.
It puts you in a special, out-of-time place
Even if I journal in my backyard, I’ve taken myself out of the usual, day-to-day equation of work and my to-do lists. In nature, there are no to-do lists because nature simply exists to be what it is. So I find when I’m immersed in nature, I start to simply exist to be what I am too. I feel freer to allow my thoughts to wander and land on whatever topics they’re drawn to.
It heightens your observational skills
When we’re outside, we encounter a whole landscape of random sounds, sights, smells, and all else. It’s not the controlled atmosphere of an indoor environment where we’ve set the temperature and lighting. When we go into nature, we’re subjecting our bodies to a whole suite of stimuli to process. That stimuli heightens our awareness, which heightens our ability to observe and record our surroundings.
It increases mindfulness
Because our senses our heightened and our awareness is more alert, our ability to be mindful of our experience increases. We can smell that pine tree, see how softly the leaves wave in the breeze, hear a bird tweeting, touch the roughness of a rock, and so on. And so, because we’re more in the “here and now,” our attention begins to block out thoughts of the past or future. Our thoughts and feelings simplify, which helps us cope with whatever’s troubling us.
It lowers stress
And so, because our attention is more present and more focused on our immediate surroundings, we relax more quickly. We turn still and silent. There are no advertisements wanting something from us, no social media to make us feel anger or angst, no traffic getting in our way. The random wild thoughts zinging through our head weaken and a deeper sense of restfulness blossoms. That, in turn, reduces our heart rate and lowers our blood pressure, creating a soothing feeling of peace.
It creates more curiosity
If you’re journaling indoors, you may be in your home or a local cafe. This means you know your surroundings well. But when journaling in nature, you may notice a woodland flower you’ve never noticed before, or wonder about the lake you’re sitting beside. These features of nature may create questions. What is that flower? How deep is that lake? And the more curious you become, the more you’ll learn, thus feeding your mind and creating a tiny sense of accomplishment that boosts confidence.
I’ve found journaling in nature relaxes me much more than when I journal in my home. Even if I’m working out angsty problems that relate to my day-to-day work and life, I’m less sucked in emotionally by it. I gain a useful, detached perspective that serves me well when I go back in. Plus, whatever insights or conclusions I’ve gained feel like icing on the cake. And that in turn, makes me feel more grateful for the life I have.
Do you ever journal in nature? If you do, let me know how! I’m always looking for ideas.
During 2020, I was kinda jealous of all the folks I saw on social media producing artistic projects and launching at-home start-up companies. I didn’t have a “pandemic project” as it were and felt so lame. Then in October a close editor friend of mine asked if I wanted to work with her on “that plants and mental health” book I’d always wanted to write. She needed a practice client for her book coaching certification program. So thinking I had some knowledge that might help people, I said yes. We then had a fun four months or so solidifying the book concept, forming the proposal, and all else. Afterward, I even sold it. And now over a year later, I’m thrilled to share with you the cover of a book that will help anyone who wants more happiness in their life: Leaf Your Troubles Behind: How to Destress and Grow Happiness Through Plants.
The book features over a dozen illustrations by the amazing Colorado artist Kara Fellows. Kara’s work is modern and hip, yet fun and friendly. I adore it. Kara was my first choice for illustrations and I was so happy when she agreed to take on the project. A gardener herself, she loves plants too and brought all of my ideas to wonderful visual life. She even did the main drawing that appears on the cover: the city windowsill with the cozy collection of plants.
The Ideas Behind it All
Over the last ten years, I’ve been reading more and more scientific studies showing how plants can literally reduce stress and help productivity and performance. This scanned with my own experience of what my gardening clients told me over the years. So I dove into the psychological research on happiness as well as the latest science on plants and mental health. That combined with my own knowledge of what worked in my life led me to create a new method for growing happiness.
My hope for this book is that it will help you lower your stress and gain more peace in your life. Plus, there’s so much great research on the happy-making effects of plants, it’s fun to explore it all.
The book doesn’t come out until July, 2022, but I’ll be sharing tidbits of related advice in the next few months.
More Details, Please
If you want to learn more, rather than having me blather on, just read the description of the book. It nicely sums up what it’s about:
Have you ever felt happier after a walk in the woods or fiddling with houseplants but your hectic life stressed you out again? In our rushed, tech-based, indoor society, we may yearn for a break but only manage to get through a noisy day and collapse in bed. Regaining a peaceful mind seems beyond reach. But what if there were easy, low-cost activities to heal the soul? What if we could regularly access tranquility? How would we do that? The answer may be in the simplest, most abundant thing all around us: plants.
Plants are like a magic pill for our mental health. Growing science tells us they lower heart rates, make us more relaxed and productive, boost our immune system, help us live longer, and provide air, food, fragrance, and beauty. In Leaf Your Troubles Behind: How to Destress and Grow Happiness Through Plants, horticulturalist Karen Hugg draws on the science and two decades of professional gardening experience to help readers reduce stress and increase happiness. Through her original, approachable system of “Green Leisure,” you will:
-discover nature’s scientifically proven power to heal us from stress
-explore what “green leisure” activities are right for you
-create a soothing green lounge at home, either via plants or just photos and décor
-gain confidence in growing low-maintenance but rewarding plants, indoors and out
-develop “green leisure” habits to ensure care for your soul any time of year
With personal stories, the latest research, and fun easy-to-do activities, Karen guides readers in delving into the wonders of plants while “leafing” their daily stress behind and growing joy.
Pre-orders Are Ready to Go
You can pre-order the book through Amazon right now. In weeks to come, I’ll be planning some special giveaways for those who order by this spring. And if you’re interested, you can read what I’ve already discovered about some of the science and strategies.
Until then, I wish you a peaceful week,
In my last post, I talked about the amazing effects of forest bathing. Today, I want to talk about another study that Japanese researcher Yoshifumi Miyazaki conducted. It shows some interesting results on whether flowers make people relax.
A Small but Key Study
Miyazaki’s team wanted to see if there were any changes in the body when subjects looked at flowers. So he had 127 people gaze at pink roses while the team measured their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous activity. These two states happen when you’re stressed or relaxed. From the baseline, they found that subjects who looked at pink roses had lower sympathetic nervous activity (stress) by 25 percent. They also found those subjects’ parasympathetic nervous activity (relaxation) rose by 29 percent. So bottom line? Yes, seeing flowers makes the human body relax.
A Small Flower Has Big Worth
Though this study doesn’t get into why flowers relax people, we can guess it has to do with how we’re biologically wired. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how our eyes align with fractal patterns in nature and I suspect that relationship has something to do with it too. Regardless, if you’re feeling stressed, you might lift your mood by buying a bouquet from the supermarket. Maybe by looking at a lovely photo on the web. Maybe by growing perennials in your backyard. Whatever the method, getting flowers into your life will be worth the cost and trouble. And the best part for gardening nuts like me? We can now justify all those impulse buys from the nursery. Science shows we need them for our mental health!
Yesterday, I recommended the book The Nature Fix for those who want a compendium of the latest research about the healing effects of nature. Today, I want to spotlight a study in that book that I thought was incredibly revealing. It shows how we often miscalculate the benefits of spending time in nature. We see it as a luxury but we often don’t see nature as a necessity. Our mental health suffers as a result.
A Psychologist Gives Students a Choice
The psychologist Elizabeth Nisbet at Trent University in Ontario followed 150 students as they either walked outside by a canal or through one of the campus tunnels. Both routes arrived at the same destination. Beforehand, students had to fill out a questionnaire on how they thought they’d feel on their walks and then another one afterward to report their well-being. Nisbet found that “although outdoor walks in nearby nature made participants much happier than indoor walks did, participants made affective forecasting errors, such that they systematically underestimated nature’s hedonic benefit.”
Because participants commonly underestimated how happy they’d feel afterward, they chose not to walk outside as often. That, in turn, created a kind of nature-avoidance loop. Generally speaking, when people choose not to go outside, they don’t know what they’re missing out on. Meanwhile, their mental well being doesn’t heal or advance. Then, once that avoidance attitude takes hold, they not only get outside less often but they don’t value the environment as much, which, in turn, lowers their valuation of sustainable practices, etc.
In the end, we may feel like the “environment” or “nature” is something apart from us and far away. We may still feel a sense of ennui or stress but the idea that a walk along a canal or in a park can alleviate that seems silly or like it won’t work. There’s just one solution: to get outside and find out! I hope, if you have a choice, you’ll consider taking a walk outside today. Afterward, I bet you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel.
Photo by Jako janse Van Rensburg