Into the Woods

10:44 AM

Let's talk nature.

Nature is the ultimate way that I feel connected and revitalized, and it's always been so. I am incredibly grateful for all the time I spent outdoors as a child running through fields and forests, picking flowers to make perfume, putting my hands up to my eyes in a rectangular shape while pretending to take photos of the beauty around me, camping, looking for cool insects, and finding a cozy place to read. No, I have never been the athletic sort...but I have definitely always been the outdoorsy sort. My love for nature runs deep in my veins and truly - as someone who battles anxiety - nature is what brings me back to a state of feeling grounded and at peace. As a woman of faith, I have honestly felt more connection with God in nature than inside any building. Man made vs. God made -> God wins every time.

It's sad to think how little time adults make for time outdoors, and even sadder still how little time children now play outdoors. "Compared to the 1970s, children now spend at least 50 percent less time in unstructured outdoor activities. Children ages 10 to 16 now spend, on average, only 12.6 minutes per day in vigorous physical activity, yet they spend an average of 10.4 waking hours each day relatively motionless" (Alliance for Childhood). Relatively motionless. I hear that phrase and it just makes me sad. But then I think about how I spend a lot of my time, especially in winter and especially pregnant, and a lot of my actions could also be described as relatively motionless. What does relatively motionless look like? Watching tv, sitting on your phone, sitting at the computer, playing video games, etc. Of course, those things aren't inherently bad but when I think of true, blissful stillness I more so think of my calming moments of having a bath, reading a good book, writing, etc. Everyone deserves to unwind however they want, but the sad thing is that 10 hours a day of "unwinding" is just too much. And I imagine as adults that number is even higher - we sleep, work, come home, and just want to relax. But the question I want to pose to you is this: is the way you are trying to relax really actually bringing you relaxation? Maybe we don't need more downtime. Maybe it's not our bodies that are tired, but our souls. Maybe you have grown weary or as Jackson Browne has coined the phrase, you are "running on empty." Our energy is wasted, or non-existent. Right now as I approach my third trimester, my energy is already on short supply, no lie. Yesterday my success story was sorting through all my clothes and then hauling three heavy hampers through my house (my bedroom and the laundry are a very long distance from each other) and by the end of that my belly was sore and tight and I needed to sit down. So I totally relate to when the energy to do more just isn't there. My husband Scott also has an under active thyroid, and often for him energy is on short supply too. However, I think we can prioritize and take time for nature even if the energy isn't there. The beautiful thing is that nature is a source of energy for us - filling us and restoring us. You don't need to be incredibly fit and spry to enjoy nature.

As I think upon the way the world is, a lead example of how disconnected people have become was my first day at the college when prepping to teach the business course. I was surprisingly trained in a formal sense not to deal with curriculum planning, answering tough questions about course material, or how to create an interesting and intriguing atmosphere, but rather how to deal with anxiety, depression, and signs of suicidal thoughts in the classroom and sure enough, when it came down to it - those were the main issues our class faced and sadly a handful had to work through that semester. If they weren't depressed, they were certainly worn out and exhausted. It breaks my heart, but these young adults are trapped in a building, often from waking to close to sleeping, and they do not have any time at all to restore their souls and feed their spirits. Sadly, they are the first generation who didn't have the same childhood I did - they grew up from the time they were toddlers in front of screens - things that were placed in front of them to keep them "safe". When I was a kid, sure my mom worried, but I can't really think of a single time where I was kept inside because it was safe other than bad weather conditions. We were sent outside and we had a blast. Now here is the crazy part: cases of abduction have not gone up, and neither have cases of freak accidents, child injury, drunk drivers, and the like. I know this is a bold statement but I am going to make it anyway - the world is not more dangerous now than it was 30 years ago. It simply isn't - and statistics back me up on that. What is different is the fear bred in us by the news and the way information travels so fast and surrounds us. We are afraid that we aren't safe. But safety is an illusion. We will all someday die. We will all feel pain. We cannot protect ourselves from grief. Ask yourself, by staying indoors, is your anxiety down? Are you less depressed? Do you worry less about the outcomes of the day and the future of your family? Have you avoided heartache and lived a life full of joy and calm emotions? I already know the answers to those questions. I am telling you - we are a deceived society, trapped inside for what we believe is our own protection, yet it the breakdown of our ability to connect with ourselves, others and nature that we instead face.

I actually had a mom vent to me about her son who doesn't leave his room and only wants to play video games all the time. She said to me that although it is challenging, at least she knows he is safe. That conclusion really unsettled me. How is he safe? What exactly is "safe"? He isn't taking any risks, he isn't out discovering, he isn't meeting people and experiencing life in its raw, real form at all. He has no connection to life. He lives in a false world and has lost the ability to connect with this one. Is that safe? Is that comforting? To me that is a true horror and is so much more scary than the thought of him out there exploring, even with the risks that exploring may present. Everything we do has risks. Certainly, being trapped indoors in front of a screen has very detrimental risks. Don't get me wrong, video games in healthy amounts have benefits - they are not pure evil. But without moderation and balance, they can completely eat away at a person. I have seen it firsthand many times - someone's potential is swallowed up while they receive a false sense of "achievement" from a false reality that when they turn the game off, has not benefited their world in the slightest. I cannot find comfort in someone watching their life pass them by in order to be "safe." I find it incredibly sad actually.

I definitely did not have anxiety issues as a child. When did it start to develop? Later in my teens, as pressures from school started to weigh on me and I lost the ability to make time for myself. But when I really think of it, it was also when I was trapped in buildings all the time. No fresh air, no breaks from stress, no physical activity, nothing. I was in school full-time working hard to get good grades and I also worked part time to pay for my own things. My part-time job was in the mall, and the next one was inside a concrete building with no windows, similar to the mall. The older I got, the less time I found myself exploring outdoors...and interestingly eough, I can't think of a single time when I faced the weight of anxiety while outside enjoying nature. Those are my restorative moments - the moments where I am filled again with wonder and grace and joy. Maybe we need a little danger. Maybe feeling safe isn't actually good for us. It's crazy how little we prioritize time outside as a society (especially in the name of "safety") and yet how crucial it is for all areas of our health. 

We aren't separate from nature, we are a part of nature. We are made of nature, we connect with nature, and nature is our natural habitat. Take a fish out of the water and how long does it thrive for? No, nature is not imperative for our physical survival as water is to a fish, but I do think it is imperative to our ability to thrive. So next time you are feeling out of sorts, disconnected, lost, afraid or unsure, head outside for a walk - find a trail and spend some time breathing in the fresh crisp air. It really will amaze you how revitalizing it is.

And if like me, you find yourself stuck indoors more often than you'd like, from work or current priorities that can't really be changed - definitely bring some plants into your space. They bring therapeutic benefits and purify the air which is always a good thing. On top of that, be sure to have a diffuser going and pick some pure essential oils that are straight nature - no added synthetics or artificial fragrances. Essential oils have made such a difference in my life - it's like bringing the way nature restores me into my home and having it available 24/7. Surely I still seek out fresh air and being outdoors as much as I can - but on brutal winter days or days when work calls and I am stuck inside, essential oils help bring that restoration and calmness and grounding to me.

Overall, if you are feeling the winter blues, or just blues in general, ask yourself "when was the last time I prioritized time in nature and how did it make me feel?" I really want to challenge everyone, myself especially, to take advantage of the healing and restoration and wonder that nature has to offer. It is free - and it brings freedom. Don't lie to yourself that you are safer in your car or in your house - and even if you are - at what cost? Get out and live your life. Enjoy what the world has for you. Breathe in the country air. Overwhelm your senses with beauty. Take off your shoes and run. Bring a blanket and a good book and read. Wade in the water. Lay on your back and look at the stars. Grab some snowshoes and go look for wildlife. Nature will speak to you and give you what you need. 

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