We are a part of nature. And yet, strangely, we separate ourselves from it, trading sky and grass for wood and drywall, and placing panes of glass between ourselves and the outside air. Rarely do we even consider the natural world—our busy lives take us to and fro, and we’ve no time to stop and smell the proverbial roses.
We suffer for that.
Robert Frost, in his poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” illustrates the plight of modern life. The poem’s narrator rides on horseback through a forest in the night, on his way to conduct some errand. Upon seeing the snow slowly moving through the branches, he stops for a moment.
But to his sadness, he has much to do, and cannot stay for long. His subsequent thoughts create some of the most famous closing lines in all of poetry.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Like the narrator, who finds the snowy wood lovely, but cannot stay long enough to enjoy it, we often become so busy that we no longer have the time to appreciate and benefit from the natural world. And without it, there can be no true peace for us—no “sleep.”
But when we take the time to enjoy the outdoors, countless benefits await us. You see, Frost knew something that few do today: nature heals our wounds.
Let’s find out how.
Nature Heals Your Emotions
Often, the deepest wounds are those inflicted upon the psyche—that deep, emotional ache that comes from betrayal or disappointment or neglect. These are the hardest wounds to heal.
Nature, though, is up to the task.
In a study conducted by graduate student Gregory Bratman of Stanford University, brain activity was tracked in volunteers as they took walks in urban and natural areas.
Those who walked along the busy urban walkways had increased blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain associated with negative brooding.
But those who walked in the quieter, greener areas had less blood flow to this area of the brain decreased—participants were happier. And this is only one study of many that has found natural settings to be emotionally healing.
Researchers don’t yet know why nature literally changes our brains for the better, but the effect is no less potent. If you’re suffering from a deep emotional wound and other treatments, such as counseling, are not taking hold, a journey to the nearest park or forest may be in order.
There, you’ll find solace, peace, and emotional health.
Nature Mends Your Body
Whether it’s from surgery, illness, or simple fall, pain is difficult to deal with. But like emotional pain, nature has its ways of dealing with our physical wounds.
A study by Dr. Roger Ulrich of Texas A&M University reviewed the records of patients recovering from gallbladder surgery at a Pennsylvania hospital. They found that those patients with rooms looking out on leafy trees healed about a day faster than those who lacked a greener view. These patients who could see nature from their windows also needed less pain medication and had fewer complications than those who simply saw a brick wall.
Ulrich and his team think that the quickening of the healing process occurs because of the psychological benefits of nature—when patients are less stressed, their immune systems work more efficiently, healing their bodies more quickly.
This even worked for those patients who looked at pictures of natural landscapes—there’s just something about nature that is inherently calming.
Evolutionary biologists think that nature holds this power because humans once took greenery to mean water, food, and shelter—now the image of nature still naturally relieves us.
Whatever the cause, making sure that you go outside and see some green each day can help you heal more quickly from your injuries. If you’re healing from a physical hurt, be sure to try the great outdoors as a remedy.
Nature Encourages Reflection
There is one healing benefit of nature that many overlook—it encourages reflection.
The peace we feel when we enter a forest or meadow or gorgeously green park is a quieting peace. It’s slow—unhurried. When our minds take on this kind of peace, we’re better able to simply let our minds wander.
According to psychologist Dr. Romeo Vitelli, allowing the mind to simply wander enhances creativity, the ability to consider the future, and a refreshed and reenergized mind.
You’ve probably experienced the sudden lack of all of these things after a particularly grueling stretch of workdays—most people call this “burning out.” But nature can heal even the worst case of burnout.
Spend some time walking among the leaves, and you’ll join a creative tradition that includes many famous authors and scientists—people who turned to nature to jumpstart their creativity. You’ll also find yourself better able to think on your future goals and even think of new ones—without the clutter of daily life, your mind is free to travel far into the future.
Best of all, nature allows your brain to “sleep.” Certain parts of your brain experienced reduced activity when you’re in the natural world, allowing it to rest. And when you return to your tasks and daily life, you’ll be renewed.
Don’t wait—go and have a good, long think in the park. You’ll come back changed for the better.
The Healer of All Things
It makes sense that nature heals us—when we allow ourselves to enjoy it, it’s like going home. We don’t’ truly belong to concrete and glass. We’re children of the trees and the open sky, and somewhere, deep down, we all long for greener pastures.
Allow nature to be your healer. Whether you’re hurting emotionally, physically, or if you’ve simply burned yourself out, you can find solace in the green places of the world.
You may have promises to keep, and miles to go before you sleep, but if you take a moment to stop and enjoy the world around you, you’ll be all the better for it.