The Germans have a word for it, as they do for so many experiences that seem without a neat description in our own language.
Waldeinsamkeit is their word that refers to the feeling one has while being alone in nature, and is described as ‘sublime and spiritual’.
Years ago, I used to suggest to clients feeling down and depressed, that one positive idea (after all the obvious helpful thoughts around diet and exercise) was to get outside and spend time alone in any green space, however small.
At the start of my working life, years ago, this idea was usually met with embarrassed looks or being told I was just buying into ridiculous hippy nonsense.
I still stand by the benefit of connecting to the natural world in whatever way we can.
It has always worked for me, and now that we need every tactical manoeuvre we can find to try to block the wave of Coronavirus, this is no longer being viewed as a leftover panacea from the floaty ideals of the 1960s, but a proven medical remedy as an aid for boosting our weary immune systems.
Scientific studies that start with childhood experiences are concluding that exposure to green spaces is comparable in importance to family history and geneology when predicting mental health outcomes. The only indicator that outweighed this, was the obvious data that collated socio-economic factors.
So, it starts in childhood.
It’s believed that kids immersed in country or green areas have a reduced risk of adolescent and adult psychiatric disorders. An extensive study to this end was done in Denmark and had a real influence on ideas regarding future green-spaced urban planning.
But we don’t all have access to idyllic country walks. The good news is that this doesn’t need to be acres of pastoral pleasure gardens, in fact a window box or houseplant corner will do nicely.
All greenery has an uplifting effect and doctors are now prescribing gardening as a therapeutic tool to increase well-being for those lucky enough to own, or rent, an outside space however small.
Nurturing plants not only distracts us from any negative chatter in our heads, it increases our own self worth.
There are community gardens to join in many areas. Or get creative with a drawing pad and pencil in an open space.
Spend a while just studying a grass or weed, check out tree shapes and watch a busy insect.
Sounds corny, but in the universal mess we seem to be facing currently, it’s pleasurably distracting to get lost in antworld for a few moments.
Children are used to having nature tables and happily doing leaf and shell motifs for their pictures. All this gets lost as we get older and starts to sound a bit twee.
But there’s a heap of difference between being childish and child-like. Spending time outdoors feeds creativity, washes worries away and nurtures the soul.
‘Nature has a great simplicity and therefore a great beauty’ Richard Feynman
Living within 300m of urban green space such as a nature reserve, play area or park is proven to be linked to greater life satisfaction, happiness and increased self-worth.
‘There are always flowers for those who want to see them’ Henri Matisse
These are exceedingly trying times.
Covid19 has imposed restrictions on our freedoms. The fear for our own futures and those we love, is proving immensely stressful. There’s no distraction or retreat to the gym or swimming pool.
Sleep is erratic, plans go awry, brains are getting mushy, places of worship are shut.
The lack of certainty and any secure place for predicting future plans mean that anxieties get fed and thus immune systems will be adversely affected.
So it’s self evident that being close to nature, even in a limited capacity, improves mental wellbeing, and will give those tired immune systems a much needed boost.
Enter the secret weapon of Waldeinsamkeit – I hope we are all still holding that word from the opening paragraphs, as this is one of the safest easiest and cheapest routes to better mental and physical health.
If this was a drug, it would be so cost-effective that it would be over subscribed.
See it as your free horticultural happy pill.
The Japanese have been advocating this for years, they also have a word for it Shinrin-yoku (ok,that’s two words) and it’s known as forest bathing orabsorbing oneselfin a forestatmosphere.
This emerged in the 1980s as an antidote to tech burnout and helped with a greater appreciation and connection to the nations’ forest areas.
Now it’s a recognised form of ecotherapy and scientific research supports its benefits.
So many cultures have long understood the importance of the natural world to human health. This can be as simple as any walk that takes in a green environment and let’s us consciously connect with what’s around us.
‘Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better’
Patients in a hospital survey who were recovering from serious surgery were found to recover faster and need less analgesics when positioned in beds facing natural outside settings. Their counterparts in beds facing a brick wall fared noticeably less well with longer recovery time and the need for longer post-operative medication.
‘Hills are always more beautiful than stone buildings’ Walking Buffalo
Peace is hard to find in these unusual times. Families are parted, The different parts of our identity are no longer able to link to offices, eateries, and leisure pursuits. It’s hard to switch those habits and contexts when there’s only one major stress in town.
Our online connections are a blessing denied to those in past times who faced catastrophic historical events.
But although they are a phenomenal tool to connect us worldwide to families and friends, letting us watch, entertain and learn in our own homes – platforms such as Zoom, Skype and FaceTime can be really tiring and intense.
Breaking the link to screens, forgetting the chores and escaping the confines of home are imperative for those fortunate to be able to venture outside
Let’s make the most of our green spaces, they reduce every year as industry, farming and building encroaches.
Hug a tree when nobody is watching, it could work for you.
Here’s the magnificent voice of Sandy Denny to give us all a moment of reflection.