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
I was passing by our local art gallery the other day, feeling rushed and worried. Then I noticed these gorgeous paintings. They’re a collaboration by Cindra Avery and Melissa Newell who are both local Northwest artists. I couldn’t stop gazing at these magnificent paintings of leaves. They locked me into a trance of admiration. I felt my breath slow, my vision calm. After a few moments, I walked away, reminded of how much a few plant paintings can lower stress and soothe the soul.
Collaborative by Nature
The pieces together are called “Collaborative by Nature.” As the artists say, “It represents a six-year creative collaboration focused on the natural world. The impetus for this work was based on our shared interests in gardening, birds, collage and mixed media design.”
The artists describe how the theme emerged organically: “We passed pieces back and forth until both of us felt we had fully explored the material, the surfaces, and finally, the meaning. When we first started this experiment in creative collaboration, we were often surprised and a bit unnerved by the work we received and briefly left with ‘What am I supposed to do?’ … Over time our pieces and work evolved, with each of us responding to the marks, color use and forms as we pushed each other in new directions.”
They’re Just Leaves But…
What is it about an artistic manifestation of plants that’s so alluring? After all, the actual subjects are just leaves. But something in my brain locked onto those recognizable images and then studied their unique curvatures, textures, and color. It was as if I’d seen those plants and yet hadn’t seen them. Avery and Newell had rendered their essence in the plant paintings but via an elevated interpretation that offered something wholly new to the world.
If you’d like to learn more about these wonderful artists, check out Melissa’s website here.
You might not think you have time to lower your stress because you have too much to do. But even busy people, especially moms, deserve a few minutes off from their hectic schedule.
1. Get Outside for 10 Minutes
The first of these ways to lower stress with plants is right outside your door. You might have snow on the ground where you live but it’s still worth sharing a brief moment with nature. Sometimes when I let the dog out, I take a minute to inhale the fresh smell of wet soil. I see the bright cloudy sky. I feel the cool rain on my face. So if you need to let your dog outside, take a few minutes, to hang around. Better yet, go for a walk in your local park. Do the trees have any leaves yet? Are the branches waving in the wind? How do the clouds move? Are they hanging or breaking up for bits of blue sky? Remember to breathe it all in. Even 10 minutes in an open natural space will refresh you.
2. Bring Home Eucalyptus Stems
Eucalyptus smells so spicy and fresh. You can probably imagine the scent right now. Supermarkets commonly sell the branches in their floral department. They range from five to ten dollars, depending on the size of the bundle. But the best thing about choosing eucalyptus over other flowers or leaves is they last. For weeks and weeks. So if you can, splurge a bit and put them in a vase of water. Then, whenever you pass by the table, rub your fingers on the leaves and smell that lovely scent. (And if you’re allergic, of course eucalyptus isn’t the best choice. ) Eucalyptus is known for its medicinal uses and a quick jolt of its minty scent will revive you as well.
3. Plan a Springtime Activity
Studies show that planning a vacation makes us slightly happier than when we’re actually on a vacation so dream a little about the future. What will you grow this year? Where can you go to see daffodils and tulips? How about watching a hyacinth bloom in a bulb container? Is there a botanical garden not too far away? Are there vegetable seeds you can start? Beans and peas are always easy and fun to start with kids in the house. Whatever your taste, plan a bit of fun to look forward to.
Yesterday for Daily Stress ReLeaf, I talked about a book that teaches readers how to create a sacred garden space. Jessi Bloom’s Creating Sanctuary talks about honoring yourself and how your garden can be a reflection of that. But what if you don’t have a garden or any outdoor space? Well, one way I honor myself is to display cut flowers in the house. For me, cut flowers equals a better mood. And not only does it boost my mood but it also brightens my family’s mood, if only momentarily.
A Sweet But Destructive Cat
In the past, I was unable to display cut flowers because of our cat. I loved our blue Russian mix Aleksy but he was an enemy of any cut flowers my husband bought me or I brought in from the garden. He loved to chew on the stems. Nothing made him happier than decapitating tulips in particular. It was a sad sight to wake up and see fresh flower heads laying chopped and abandoned on the dining table. So for years, I didn’t keep cut flowers around. If my husband gave me a bouquet for a special day, I locked them in my office or up high on a shelf where I rarely looked at them.
Does Science Say Cut Flowers, Better Mood?
My dear sweet cat passed away last year. Though I still miss his spirited ways, I now take advantage of my quiet still counters and table tops. When I receive roses, I proudly display them in a prominent place in the kitchen and take a moment to breathe in their scent every day. I feel grateful, especially on rainy days in winter. Apparently, a lot of other folks feel similarly. A Rutgers study found that both men and women’s moods are bettered by flowers. We’ve evolved to react positively to them.
To say I react positively puts it lightly. Cut flowers are like a blast of sunshine for me, reminding me that nature is simple and beautiful. Flowers know nothing of life’s complexities or disappointments. They just do what they do best: grow and offer their gifts. Excellent stress relief.
A Question For You
So my question to you is do cut flowers put you in a better mood? Are they an expensive indulgence for you or a must? Do you also have cats that like to chomp on them? Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter.
Jessi Bloom’s Creating Sanctuary is a beautiful guide on how to honor your land while honoring your self. It’s part garden design, part plant-based medicine, part soul-healing. She talks about creating a sacred garden space that aligns with your spiritual self before advising on how best to care for that self, physically and mentally. Though the premise sounds a little woo-woo, I found the book provides both inspiration and information in fair proportions. As she says, we all want “peacefulness, protection from a harsh world, and rejuvenation.” So having an expert like Bloom to help with that makes good sense.
Sacred Space, Sacred You
The first section deals with imagining and building your garden, addressing design elements and meaningful physical objects. She discusses the importance of listening for the land’s spirit before addressing spiritual objects like bells, altars, mandalas, etc. The book’s middle discusses the how-to of garden installation and includes a small encyclopedia of 50 sacred plants, based on medicinal uses and ancient myths. There’s an excellent chart on healing plants, their benefits, and how to use them. Plus, recipes for handy things like skin salve and natural bug repellent. Readers may find the last section a bit on the hippie side with daily rituals and mindfulness exercises but for the spiritually inclined, Bloom offers really useful ideas.
An Aspirational Dream
Like all great gardening books, there are alluring photos and crisply laid out exercises and recipes. Photos of Bloom show her doing yoga poses and harvesting plants. Her life looks of course too perfect to be true but that’s what we all want, right? The life of a relaxed, healthy gardener who lives in a quiet, eden-like setting. Overall, Creating Sanctuary is a helpful book if you want guidance on that, proving that plants really can make us happier.