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The importance of connecting with nature

Photograph: iStock / Aina Masood

Text: Aina Masood

Interacting with nature enhances psychological well-being, but how does it play out during a pandemic?

Biophilia is the tendency of humans to focus on life in all its forms. In everyday life, you can experience biophilia when you feel awe as you watch a blossoming flower. It is there when you gasp at the sight of a puppy or when you feel joy walking through a garden. The feeling of joy, pleasure, and connection with Mother Nature is what we call biophilia.

Interacting with nature and urban green spaces is critical for psychological health. Our innate love for nature can help us reduce anxiety and relieve stress. It is a crucial factor in fighting loneliness and dealing with mental health problems. Going for a walk in nature can help us restore our brain and re-energise it. But the question is, how do you connect with nature during a pandemic? Is it safe to be outdoors?

A quick look at the rule-book of COVID-19 restrictions can help us realise that outdoors are safer than indoors. When we are in an open space, we can maintain distance and follow the guidelines accurately. Does that make it easier to plan a walk or a meetup outdoors? No, it doesn’t. Why? Because it is scary. People can be irresponsible with wearing masks and honouring the two-meter distance rule. Thinking about meeting people can instigate feelings of anxiety, fear, confusion, and in some cases, panic. But remember, it is called the Great Outdoors for a reason.

You can limit your social circle. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to be with people to experience the outdoors and enjoy nature. You can plan trips that involve forest-bathing, hiking, walking tours, beach day, photography retreat, street art hunt, and much more. I feel utterly grateful that I was in Denmark during the pandemic because we have beautiful parks and open spaces that have been my go-to throughout the last year. When we went into lockdown the first time in March, spring was approaching. I remember going for a walk in the parks was the one thing that kept me sane. I felt gratitude for the moments I could connect with nature as it gave me a sense of joy and hope.

"Working from home brings flexibility. You can use your commute time for yoga or a walk in the nearby park."

Some people still struggle with the shift from office to working from home because, among other things, it has blurred the boundaries of work and home life. Research suggests the pandemic poses a multifold threat to our mental health. However, there is a hidden advantage that we can use to turn the situation in our favour. Working from home brings flexibility. You can use your commute time for yoga or a walk in the nearby park. You can squeeze in a quick run around lunchtime. You can enjoy the relatively empty streets and parks. You can re-discover your neighbourhood because you see more when there are not many people around. To make your workspace somewhat livelier, you can put a potted plant on your work desk or perhaps working closer to the window, if possible.

I can say I’ve personally experienced the benefits of feeling a connection with nature as it brings me a sense of peace, calm, gratitude, and joy. You can also benefit from these scientifically proven positive impacts of nature on human psychology-we can be healthier and happier together.

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