The Benefits of Connecting With Nature When Living With a Chronic Illness
Since becoming ill with ME/CFS, just over four years ago, I have found many benefits in learning to connect with nature. Spending time in nature is both relaxing and deeply healing. It can provide some much needed nourishment for the mind, body and soul! Nature can help us to feel revitalized, and often helps provide us with a fresh perspective when we feel a bit stuck in a situation or negative mindset.
Unfortunately in today’s modern world, we often fail to spend time in nature due to an increasing amount of time spent indoors – often in front of screens. As technology continues to progress, it is very easy to get caught up in this “cyber world” as we become addicted to our tablets and mobile phones. How many people take their lunch these days, surfing the net while eating a sandwich?
Also, when living with a chronic illness, it’s not always that easy to get outdoors. Just getting out of bed can use up a huge amount of energy, so getting out of the house can be a step too far on some days. However, on the “better” days, I find that spending time outside in nature has a positive effect on how I feel.
Getting outdoors allows us to take a break from the monotony of living with chronic illness, as well as slowing down our busy minds. Paying attention to beautiful things such as pretty flowers or a clear blue sky can be incredibly calming. In fact, studies now suggest that time spent outdoors can have real long-lasting health benefits.
From my own personal experience in living with a chronic illness, I have found that spending time in nature has helped to ease painful sensations in my body and calm my mind. Rather than focusing on what is wrong or feeling helpless and frustrated by my situation, it has helped me to refocus my attention on all the wonderful things we so often take for granted.
On the “good days,” it’s usually easy enough to sit outside in a garden or on a park bench – or go for a stroll if you are up to it. As little as 10 minutes outdoors can make all the difference in how you feel, and it is such a simple thing to do!
If you are unable to leave the house, then how about opening the windows and letting nature come in to you! Simply gazing out of the window and looking at the trees can be wonderfully relaxing! Or lying in bed listening to the sound of the rain can be nice and calming – having an almost meditative effect!
However, if our minds are busy it can be difficult to switch off, which leads to us being de-sensitized as to what’s going on around us. Often we find our minds are elsewhere thinking about all sorts of other things. Also, when our bodies are in pain or our mood is low, it can be really hard to switch off from all of this.
Something I have found helpful when learning to switch off and “connect” with nature is to tune in to your senses – so paying attention to what you can see, smell, hear, touch and maybe even taste! This can really help you to be mindful and to start appreciating what is going on around you. Simple things will make a difference, such as noticing all the colors you can see as you look around at the flowers, plants, trees and sky, listening to the sound of the birds singing, touching the leaves on the trees and even taking time to smell the flowers.
When I first became ill with ME/CFS (and I was forced to slow down), it really occurred to me just how much I’d been caught up in the busyness of modern day life – by living life on a treadmill without really noticing what was going on around me. I vividly remember one day pausing to hear the birds sing, and then I realized just how long it had been since I’d noticed this simple pleasure. Now every time I go outdoors or open the windows, it is one of the first things I notice, and it always makes me smile!
The more you take the time to consciously “tune in,” the more automatic it will then become. You will soon find you become much more aware of the world around you. One of my favorite things to do is to sit in the garden with a cup of my favorite herbal tea, and simply spend time watching and listening to what is going on around me.
Being in nature can help to provide us with a welcome break from our pain, as it helps bring the body and mind back into harmony and balance. It’s not known as “nature therapy” for nothing!
If you have more energy, then why not plan a trip to the seaside or go for a stroll in the woods? Particularly if you live in an urban environment, this can be hugely beneficial. Spending time breathing in the fresh air and taking time to admire the scenery “connects” us to nature, which can feel wonderfully invigorating. Kick off your shoes and walk barefoot in the sand or grass and enjoy the feeling of being free from the constraints of everyday life!
Why not grab your camera and capture some snaps of the amazing things that grab your attention? This is something I have done since becoming ill and it has really helped me to pay attention to all the beautiful things around me (please feel free check out my Instagram account!). I’ve realized that you really don’t have to go very far to discover these things. Many of my photos are taken in my garden! Taking photos really does encourage you to focus more on what you can see – as well as maybe even bringing out your creative side!
In my opinion, connecting with nature can help to create a positive perspective on life and brings back a sense of wonder for the world we live in. Both of which I feel I certainly need when living with the constraints of chronic illness. It may not cure us, but it can certainly help us to feel a little bit better about our everyday lives!
What simple things can you do today to connect with nature? I would love to hear your comments!
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Thinkstock photo via Smileus.