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How Nature Helps Me Stay Grounded in Moments of Anxiety

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Today, I went for a walk at Mammoth Cave National Park. It was just a short trek around a small, marshy pond. After snapping a few pictures, I put my phone away and focused on taking in my surroundings. The scenery was beautiful.

I noticed a couple of spider webs suspended between trees and the sun shining through them. I listened to the laughter and chatter of my family walking behind me. I observed the different shapes and textures of the tree trunks. I watched a snapping turtle sneak a little closer to the edge of the pond, hoping for a cracker, a Cheerio or some other treat.

Journaling about the walk this evening, a realization struck me: The reason nature is so calming is that it grounds me in my surroundings. I have struggled with anxiety almost as long as I can remember. Some days are better than others. Over the last year or so, I have begun taking more control of my mental health.

One of the coping methods I have learned is called grounding. It involves looking around and identifying five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This technique gets me out of my own head, so to speak, and it pulls me back into my surroundings. I am required to get in touch with my own senses and realize I’m still here. That reconnection with my senses, my surroundings and myself has sometimes been enough to stave off a panic attack.

Writing is another calming outlet for me. Naturally, when I was a child, my thoughts were less abstract and more concrete. My writings focused more on things I could see and touch. Specifically, I wrote a lot of poetry and prose about nature. As I got older, my writings began focusing more on my thoughts and emotions instead of observations. I began to journal about my worries, fears and what-ifs.

Now, that kind of journaling certainly has its place. When I am calm(er), it allows me to examine my thought processes and better understand the sources of my anxiety. However, when I am in a state of panic, focusing on the source only makes it appear larger. It sends me into a spiral.

I have discovered a way to help myself when I am in this state (or rather rediscovered) — the self-care I used as a child. I take myself, my journal and a cup of tea and I go to a quiet place outdoors. There, I sit quietly for 10 minutes and observe. I observe the trees, the weeds, the glow on the spider’s web, the ladybug persistently trying to climb a blade of grass and the hawk flying overhead.

Then, I write. I write what I see, hear, feel, smell and taste. I write what the wind in the trees sounds like, what the daffodils smell like and how the grass tickles my feet. I reconnect with where I am, and usually, I find peace. This method is not always enough to make the anxiety go away, but I can at least put it into perspective. The world is bigger than the panic I’m facing right now. I am more than the anxiety I feel right now. I am also a body, a whole person and a part of the world around me.

I recommend trying it. Make time whenever you can and as often as you can. Go to a quiet place in nature and observe what is around you. Use whatever form of creative expression is the most comfortable for you. Whether writing, talking or drawing, take notes on what you see, hear, touch, taste and smell.

Connect with your senses. Maybe it will do for you what it does for me: quiet the whirlwind of thoughts, reacquaint you with the beautiful things that exist in the world, or at least serve as a reminder that you are still here and things are going to be OK.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: October 26, 2016
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