There are endless studies and writings on the benefits of Nature Connection, especially for your mental health, but what does it really mean? What is Nature Connection and how do you know when you’re connected?
More than simply being in nature, connecting to nature requires active engagement with the natural world around us. It can be helpful to think of it as any other relationship; in the same way that we prioritise connecting with loved ones and finding ways to show them we’re thinking of them, we can also set time aside and show our appreciation for Mother Earth, even if we feel disconnected right now. This particular relationship rarely answers back though 😉
The more we build and nurture this relationship, the more we get from it, much like that best friend you’ve spent so much time with and know inside out so that even a simple message from them brightens your day. Historically we have always ‘connected to nature’ through knowledge, species identification and spending time outdoors (now known as contact with nature, rather than connection), but what if there is more to it than that? Exploring taking the relationship further opens up new depths to our connection.
How Connected Are You to Nature Right Now?
Whether we recognise it or not, we all have a connection to nature – we exist with, and because of, the natural world. We are all interconnected beings, and so perhaps the first step to building any healthy relationship is to examine how it is right now.
What emotions do thinking about your connection to nature, or lack thereof, bring up? Do you feel warmth and comfort? Or maybe sadness as you realise how disconnected you are or curiosity as something stirs deep within? Whatever you feel, acknowledge it without judgment – even if you feel disconnected and it doesn’t bother you. Our modern world has taken us further and further from our roots and many of us have been taught that nature is silly or even dangerous, you’re certainly not alone if you’re not sure why people like me are so enthusiastic about it!
There are some tests you can take to measure your level of Nature Connectedness, I use the Connectedness to Nature Score (CNS) developed by psychologists Mayer and McPherson Frantz in 2004. It uses 14 questions to assess feelings and attitudes towards nature, such as feeling a sense of awe in nature, appreciating the beauty of nature, and feeling a part of nature. Scores range from 14 to 56, with higher scores indicating a stronger connection to nature.
Begin with Small Steps to Foster Your Nature Connection
No matter your circumstances, there are myriad ways for you to connect with nature. These 25 easy ideas are a great place to start.
Remember to start small and be realistic about your expectations and abilities. If you’re a bustling city dweller then perhaps aiming to spend 3 blissful hours in a forest an hour’s drive away every week isn’t the way to set yourself up for success!
It’s also important to remember that some of growing your intimate connection to nature is discovering what you personally love about it. There are so many different ways to connect with nature, and the experiences that light you up will be different to the things that speak to or touch the heart of your best friend or partner.
Deepen Your Nature Connection with the Five Proven Pathways
Dr. Miles Richardson, a renowned environmental psychologist, has identified five key pathways to deepen our connection with nature. The pathways provide a route to a new relationship with nature which moves beyond utility and control, beyond knowledge and identification. A new closer, healthier and more sustainable relationship with nature comes through noticing, feeling, beauty, celebration and care.
The pathways are:
1. Sensory Experiences:
Immerse yourself fully in nature through all your senses. Engage with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the natural world. Take time to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature, whether it’s the vibrant colours of a sunset, the crisp crunch underfoot as you walk on snow, or the refreshing scent of pine trees.
Sun-warmed skin tingles with joy, the wind whispers secrets of comfort, and the crashing waves awaken a stirring awe. In this emotional ebb and flow, we discover a sense of aliveness, a connection to nature rooted in the depths of our being.
3. Finding Meaning in Nature:
Align your actions and lifestyle with the principles of nature. Practice sustainability in your daily life, reducing your environmental impact and supporting conservation efforts. Live in harmony with nature, respecting and celebrating its rhythms and cycles. Reflect on how nature has shaped your life, from the memories of childhood adventures to the solace found in a quiet forest walk. Consider the role of nature in human history, culture, and spirituality. As you delve deeper into the meaning of nature, you’ll discover a deeper connection to the natural world and its significance in your life.
4. Compassion: Nurturing Nature with Empathy and Care:
Take action to protect and preserve the natural world. Volunteer for conservation efforts, support environmental organisations, and make conscious choices that minimise your impact on the environment. Put food out for hedgehogs, plant a pot of spring bulbs to support early pollinators, take cuttings and sow too many seeds so you can share or swap with neighbours. Furthermore, focus on native plants and of course, go peat-free.
5. Noticing Nature’s Beauty:
This isn’t a passive act; it’s an active engagement, a conscious cultivation of wonder. The more you notice, the deeper your connection with nature becomes, and the more beauty we find in every nook and cranny of our world. Some examples:
- Savouring the subtle: watching sunlight dance on dewdrops clinging to cobwebs or tracing the intricate veins on a fallen leaf.
- Appreciating the grand: Gazing at the star-studded canvas of the night sky or feeling dwarfed by the towering majesty of ancient redwoods.
- Recognising patterns: Noticing the fractal geometry of snowflakes, the spiralling curves of seashells, or the way sunlight paints geometric patterns on the forest floor.
- Finding beauty in the unexpected: Seeing the elegance of a weathered branch, the delicate hues of moss clinging to a stone, or the vibrant splash of colour in a decaying mushroom.
- Embracing the ephemeral: Appreciating the fleeting beauty of a sunrise, the delicate fragrance of a blooming flower, or the quiet stillness of a snow-covered landscape.
Follow the Five Pathways to Deepen Your Connection to Nature
🌟Evidence shows that by following the five pathways above, you will cultivate a deeper reverence for nature at the same time as boosting your resilience and mental health🌟
Allow it to Develop Naturally
Don’t expect your first mindful visit to a forest or beach to catapult you to excellent mental health. While some people do find that from their first experience, everything falls into place and they immediately fall in love with noticing and appreciating the natural world, that’s not true for everyone. You may feel awkward or like you’re not doing it right. Perhaps your mind keeps wandering and you find yourself thinking about what you’ve got to do later. You might get back home and think, “That didn’t do anything at all. Yes, it starts like that for most of us! Here’s where we come back to the analogy of relationships – they take effort.
Most of us have that loved one who we didn’t hit it off with right away but, over time, we grew to appreciate them and now we couldn’t live without them. It’s OK for your skills in noticing and building your connection to nature to be the same. Show yourself some compassion and practice patience as you work on this precious and powerful relationship.
OK, Summarise Nature Connection for me, Please.
At its core, Nature Connection is our natural way of being, so the practice of reconnecting with nature is simply being true to our needs and our roots. Significantly, the disconnection between humans and Earth is a modern one. It only really started one generation ago, so the fact that there is already such a large movement to return to our natural state of Nature Connectedness undoubtedly proves just how primal of a drive it is. Simultaneously, the evidence shows how key it is for our mental health and wellbeing as individuals and as a society, as well as the Earth itself.
Ultimately, it is the simplest, cheapest and most holistic way to take care of ourselves and, with a little personalisation and patience, it is life-changing.
Ready to Try Nature Connection for Yourself?
If you’d like to move beyond contact with nature towards a deep connection with nature, register here to receive a complementary Vitamin N Adventure in your inbox each month.
Seasonally aligned to the Northern Hemisphere, these mindful activities or ‘invitations’ are designed to slow you down, help you notice and appreciate nature, and deepen your connection. As a result, you’ll feel better, nature will do better and perhaps you’ll even share the adventure with a friend.
Thank you for helping me spread the Nature Nerd Word! Learn more about me, Sonya Dibbin, and my Nature Connection journey here.