This year, we find ourselves adjusting to changes that happen just before warmer weather and longer days materialize, as the school year winds down and we prepare for increased time spent in the great outdoors. I acknowledge there have been many years that have tried our collective patience, though I for one have found this spring to be particularly challenging in that respect. For weeks I have been patiently, and not so patiently, waiting for the first signs of spring weather to appear. We have certainly put in our time, and while of course, winter is an undeniable and arguably even enjoyable part of living in Minnesota, we also really love our elusive warm weather months. Eager to get outside with our friends and families to enjoy all that summer in Minnesota has to offer, every year we wait and wait, and every year the earth delivers us beautiful lush green and nurturing warm summer weather.
One of the very earliest signs of spring for me is what appears as the lightest, barely there, green hue that emerges among the branches of my neighbor’s trees lining the pond in the backyard. I feel a deep and collective exhale when the chilly spring rain clears and tiny shoots of green appear on those trees and in the grass outside. I know it will not be long before my peonies, lilacs and crabapple trees are in full bloom. Spring offers a sense of renewal and reward for our endurance over the last many months and the longer than usual wait we have had this year.
Especially during the spring and summer months, my favorite way to unwind and take time for myself is to be in nature. Just being in and around lush green landscapes, clear blue skies, and calming blue water soothes and replenishes my soul like little else. Being among green noticeably slows my breathing and thoughts, and allows me time and space to relax. Our stress responses in our nervous systems decrease from nature’s effects leaving us feeling calmer and more content. Our brains have a chance to loosen their worry-grips and our thinking becomes clearer, increasing our focus and our ability to problem solve. Many people report a marked lift in their mood and general outlook after a just ten minutes of being outside in the fresh air. More and more studies support the plethora of emotional, cognitive, and physiological benefits we get from nature. In fact, just two hours a week spent this way is said to make a significantly positive impact on our wellbeing.
I encourage us all this season to give our minds and bodies the time and space it needs to be outdoors in nature if and when it is possible. When it is not possible, remember that looking at images of nature or imagining yourself in nature has benefits, as well. The same parts of our brains experience similar calming effects using these methods even when we cannot actually be outside in the exact moment we would like to be. Let’s look forward to the fresh air and green spaces coming our way. I am feeling grateful and hopeful as I glance out my window and see tiny green buds bursting from the tree branches in my neighbor’s trees.
Carrie Niles, is an individual and family therapist with Lakes Center for Youth and Families.