If you’ve suffered a loss, you know the profound power of grief to immobilize us and ravage our hearts and minds. While grief is most intense in the moments soon after a loss, it can still be felt deeply years after a beloved person passes. Wherever you are on your journey through grief and loss, you can find comfort, solace, and healing in nature. In this article, we’re going to discuss grief and nature, how nature heals, and its relationship to mental health. Our hope here at Ecorial is that this guide can offer some ease and comfort in this difficult time.
Relationship Between Nature and Mental Health
Regarding nature and mental health, science shows what many know intuitively; nature helps humans have better mental health. And, regarding grief, supporting your mental health is likely at the forefront of your current goals. A review of studies about how nature impacts children’s mental health suggests that it has a positive impact. When nature is accessible to children, and they can be exposed to nature and engage with it, it supports their emotional well-being and helps children with attention deficit disorder.
Spending time in nature may help with common mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Mild to moderate depression can be soothed with time in nature, especially if physical activity is involved. Another excellent example of how nature is helpful for mental health is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The natural light exposure from outside can lift your spirits if you experience SAD yearly.
Anyone with mental health issues can benefit from going outdoors and enjoying nature, even if the issues are a temporary result of extreme grief. If you’re dealing with heartache, a trip into the great outdoors might be just what the doctor ordered.
How Does Nature Heal?
Nature engages the senses. This helps if you have perhaps been stuck in your head with the thoughts and emotions of grief. It’s well known that engaging your five senses can help with experiences of stress and with things like anxiety and panic attacks. While access to your five senses anywhere can help with anxiety and stress, which are often side effects of grief, this practice or coping technique has even more power when performed in nature.
- When you’re sitting or walking in nature, focus on the colors and shapes you can see. Count five different individual things; a bird, a tree, a leaf, a stone, and a flying insect.
- Next, focus on your hearing. Identify four things you can hear; a bird song, a buzzing bee, the crunch of your footstep, and the breeze blowing by.
- Think about what you can feel, and count three sensations. Notice the sun on your face, feel the breeze caressing you, feel the earth beneath your feet.
- Tune into your sense of smell and count two scents. Maybe you can smell water nearby, a flower, or the scent of life all around you.
- Finally, think about what you can taste. It’s probably safest to taste your water (always bring a bottle of water when going out into nature) or a granola bar and leave any natural foods for the creatures.
Another way nature heals us is by encouraging movement. Walking or hiking through the great outdoors boosts circulation, helps us sweat, and increases endorphins, which are happy hormones. Exercise is better outdoors, so swim, walk, hike, and bike ride your way through the grief.
How Can Nature Help Us Grieve?
Being in nature gives us a pleasant space to experience and move through our feelings of grief and loss. When you’re in nature, it is having a positive effect on your body. The practice of “forest bathing” has been scientifically studied and shows that being in the forest has specific physiological effects on your body, such as reducing blood pressure, supporting the autonomic nervous system (which is in charge of involuntary bodily functions like digestion, breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate), and helps the immune system. It also helps to soothe the experience of depression and improves mental health overall.
How to Grieve in Nature
Grieving in nature offers a visceral experience of the cycle of life. You’ll see new, young growth in the forms of trees, plants, and small creatures and be reminded that, despite the loss, life goes on. The whole cycle of life is on display as the old nourishes the new, as seen with old trees and the sustenance they provide to many life forms.
Many people choose to lay their loved ones to rest in nature. This may be in the form of a memorial tree or living urn, planted with the deceased’s cremation ashes, or by scattering their ashes outside so they can “rest in nature.”With the Ecorial Memory Map, you can record the exact location of your loved one’s final resting place. You can view their memorial online at any time, visit their resting place, and share it with others who love the one who passed.
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