Let me assure you that I am not going to “nature shame” you in this post.
I have often shamed myself in the past for not getting outside enough. Occasionally other people have, too. Shame is not a helpful motivator.
Nature never shames us, so let’s not nature shame anyone.
No Nature Shaming
I mean, look. Everyone KNOWS spending time outside is a good idea. We all understand on some level that being outdoors is good for us–or at least that it is supposedly good for us.
We also seem to have this cultural ideal of the uber-outdoor athlete or the rugged outdoors man or woman that often fuels this cultural pressure to be outside.
You know–There’s that guy or girl who runs or bikes or hikes incredible distances and goes on these epic camping or other outdoor adventures. (And if you are one of these folks, good for you. You’re super cool, and you inspire me, despite my occasional feelings of guilt.)
And they post these beautiful pictures of themselves communing with nature. And if you are like me, sometimes these pictures make you feel a bit guilty.
Because if you are anything like me, you spend a lot of time indoors, and you feel a little uneasy about it.
My Weird Relationship With Nature
I have this complex relationship with nature. On the one hand, I love nature. I grew up going to summer camp, and I even worked at camp for five years during and after college. I used to lead nature hikes for a living, for Pete’s sake.
I love beautiful scenery and trees and animals.
There is a rooster that lives somewhere in my neighborhood, and I love hearing him crow.
On the other hand, I REALLY like being indoors. There are several reasons for this.
One reason is that I get really overwhelmed by intense sun and humid heat. I am what some people call a highly sensitive person, and highly sensitive people often struggle with light and heat sensitivity. (You can read more about highly sensitive people here.)
I also perspire. A LOT. Like, way more than the average person. I have been this way my whole life. I would go to aerobics class in high school, and by the end of the class, the entire front of my shirt would be completely soaked.
Exhibit A: This is me after walking just two miles early in the morning when it was really cool out. I perspire like an exuberant geyser.
I don’t just glisten–I drip when I exercise. It’s great. (read: It’s not great.) So, sometimes being outside in a lot of heat, especially if I am moving a lot, is hard for me because I end up dripping perspiration, and sometimes it is awkward.*
In addition to this, I like walking and running and bicycling, but my capabilities in this area are nothing to write home about.
I have so many friends and family members that are amazing outdoor people–like they climb or do triathlons or obstacle course racing. I, on the other hand, hula-hoop. Which, I guess, does occasionally make for a nice outdoors photo. I’m pretty basic at it.
To be honest, sometimes when I am doing outdoor activities with other folks, I compare my skills to their skills and find myself really lacking.
I would be lying if I said this doesn’t bother me frequently.
On top of all of this, I am a reading, writing, philosophizing, painting kind of gal. And I love having a lot of quiet time and peaceful space in which to do these things.
I love drawing and painting at my desk.
Oh, and I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and my ideal kind of day is a rainy, overcast day with a lot of fog.
If you put this all together, I am really happy when I am a little hermit, hanging out on my couch or in my shady office doing my little philosophical hermit things. And if it is overcast and raining outside, well that makes the day pretty much perfect.
I say all of this to stress that I really gravitate towards being inside a lot. And lately I have been inside a lot. I mean A LOT.
How Much Have You Been Inside, Shelly?
In fact, I have been inside so much lately that it started to have a negative effect on me, and I didn’t even realize it until recently.
A few weeks ago, I realized I was experiencing an unusual amount of anxiety, agitation, and lack of focus. A voice inside me said, You are nature-starved, and it is making you depressed and agitated. (Thanks, Wise Little Voice Inside My Head).
So I decided to get outside more. And it wasn’t because I shamed myself into going outside. It was because I literally felt like I was starving to go outside and I needed to do it in order to feel like myself again.
I am really glad I listened to that little voice in my head.
For the class couple of weeks, I have gone outside every day. Sometimes I go on short walks. Sometimes I go on long walks.
The other day I hung out for a few hours at an outdoor cafe here in Lexington. It’s called Kentucky Native Cafe, and it is beautiful. If you are ever in Lexington, please go there.
Today, I spent about an hour an a half in my back yard which is a pretty simple backyard but has lots of big, leafy trees surrounding it.
I worked on a blog post outside.
I walked in the grass.
I took selfies with the trees.
I hung upside down on my swing.
I picked strawberries from my little strawberry patch.
It was amazing.
What Have I Noticed?
Being outdoors has really helped me. I am starting to crave being outdoors. I feel more peaceful, happy, youthful, hopeful, vibrant, and joyful.
I still feel frustrated and anxious sometimes, but I feel like spending time outside builds this reservoir of peace and joy that helps me be more resilient.
I Am Not Imagining All of This
And it turns out that I’m not just imaging all of this. People who study nature and its effects on people have discovered that being in nature brings incredible benefits like increased emotional health, focus, increased creativity, and even an increased capacity for morality and kindness.
In addition, being cut off from nature can actually cause something called nature-deficit disorder, which can lead to increased depression and agitation.
It Makes Sense
If you think about it, it actually makes sense that nature is so important to us and that we need it so badly. For almost all of human history, we have spent a great deal of time outdoors.
Nature was our home, our playground, our grocery store, and certainly sometimes our adversary.
It is only recently that we have begun spending so much time indoors. It is only recently that we have begun spending way more time with technology and gadgets than we do with birds, flowers, and trees.
Technology, air conditioning, and all of our other modern conveniences are great and bring us so many benefits. But perhaps one of our greatest challenges is to learn to use these conveniences well without forgetting that we are, at heart, wild and free outdoor creatures.
My Friend’s Outdoor Adventures
The other day I posted on Facebook about some of my recent outdoor adventures.
Much to my delight, a friend of mine called me tonight and said, “Shelly, I just wanted to let you know that I read your posts on FB about going outside, and I decided to go for a walk. I feel so happy right now.”
My friend has some anxiety issues just like me, and we talked about how so often we discouraged ourselves from going outside because we make it really complicated.
We think we have to wear the perfect clothes and look great while we are doing it (like no sweating) and do something fantastic and memorable and social-media-worthy. We turn going outside into some kind of contest or shame parade or chore we have to do.
None of this is necessary. What we really are starving for is to just go for a walk around the block. Or sit in the grass. Or stand in our backyard and listen to the birds and listen to the trees.
It doesn’t really matter.
Being in nature isn’t a contest. It is about finding love waiting for us. Nature loves us. Any expression of love back is perfect.
Your Nature Adventure: Every day this week (or as often as feels good), spend some time in nature not because you should or because you have to but because it is a gift of self-love to yourself.
Here are some things you might try:
1. Go for a walk: it can be really short or long, as short as you want. As you are walking, ask yourself, what is something beautiful I see? What do I hear? What do I smell?
2. Walk barefoot in the grass, especially in the morning. How does it feel?
3. Go outside and listen to the birds singing. Try to describe at least two different bird songs you can hear.
4. You might like checking out the blog of my friend, Ali, which is all about gardening an plants. Ali blogs at The Mindful Gardener
5. If the thought of going outside more right now really stresses you out, no worries. It’s okay. You might need to take some time to show yourself love in other ways.
For instance, a while ago, I realized that my breathing had become really erratic and shallow, and this was causing me all sorts of problems. I practiced a month of intentional breathing, and it really helped me. In fact, I think that is one of the things that helped me be more inspired to go outside.
You may need to work on breathing for a while. You can read more about my breathing adventures here:
Also, if you find yourself struggling with perfectionism about doing outdoorsy things, especially activities related to exercise, you might find these post helpful:
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*If you are a highly sensitive or anxious person, it may be interesting for you to note that excess perspiration can also be triggered by sensitivity and anxiety. You can read more about his here.)