Time in Nature

By Shelley Galasso Bonanno, MA, LLP / Photography by Mike Ferdinande

Nature comes in all shapes and sizes, from the neighborhood nature trail to magnificent mountains and oceans. Spending time in nature can clear our minds and help us relax. Recent psychological research is confirming what we knew all along: spending time in nature increases both our physical well-being and our mental health.

Recent research has demonstrated that spending time in nature can even sharpen our cognition. Studies show that being exposed to nature, even in small doses, is linked to improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and increases in empathy and cooperation. While most research so far has focused on green spaces such as parks and the wilderness, researchers are beginning to also study the benefits of blue spaces, such as places with river, lake and ocean views.

Michigan, with its great lakes and local and state parks, offers many opportunities to spend time in nature. Gardening, simply watching the sunset, or just walking in nature, even in urban areas such along the Clinton River or on the Macomb Orchard Trail, away from digital screens, is shown to have the potential to boost mood. Research confirms that the sense of connection people have with the natural world seems to contribute their general well-being even when they’re not physically immersed in nature.

Nature can also help reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Mindfulness such as noticing the spring trees budding, the birds singing and feelings of awe when viewing nature, can help us feel grounded and connected to the world. The feeling that you are part of a much bigger whole can provide a deeper sense of wellbeing. And, you don’t necessarily have to spend a great deal of time in nature to reap the benefits. Studies reveal people who spend just two (or more) recreational hours a week connected to some form of nature reported significantly greater health, well-being, and an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life.

This spring is the perfect season to connect to nature and the benefits to your well-being, including mental and physical health, can be as close as your own backyard.

Shelley BonannoA lifelong resident of Macomb County, Shelley Galasso Bonanno is a practicing limited licensed psychologist who earned her master’s degree from Wayne State University in 1987. She has a breadth of experience in working with adults, children, families, and couples. In addition to working in private practice, Ms. Bonanno performs consultative services for State and forensic agencies. She performs custody and parenting time evaluations and is a court approved mediator. Her writings have appeared in various online and print publications. An advocate for mental health, you can follow Ms. Bonanno on Twitter @shelleybonanno.

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