You know that immersing yourself in the natural world can refresh your spirits and lower your stress level. But your demanding job keeps you chained to a computer, and after work there’s a houseful of family responsibilities. You rarely seem to take that nature walk, or spend that leisurely “green hour” so widely recommended for kids and adults alike (learn more at www.greenhour.org).
Retired University of Minnesota psychologist Martha Farrell Erickson, PhD, serves on the board of the Children and Nature Network, dedicated to overcoming what founder Richard Louv calls our “nature-deficit disorder.” Erickson’s convinced that even today’s screen-bound, overworked adults can find green time if they’re willing to try a few simple measures.
Too little nature time. The feeling that you’d like to get outside more, for pleasure and health, but can’t seem to make it happen.
Barriers to Overcome
Worries about time, connectivity and productivity. Tech-driven anxiety can keep us indoors, says Erickson. “If we don’t return an email in a couple of hours, we worry that people will think we’re slackers or we’ve fallen off the edge of the earth.”
Cyber-amnesia. Many of us have no idea how much time we’re spending in front of screens, especially in our leisure hours. We lose track of time, so we lose time we could have spent outdoors.
Outdoor anxiety. “A lot of people are afraid to let their kids go outside, because of ‘stranger danger,’” says Erickson, “but many younger adults who have grown up indoors aren’t comfortable outside, either.”
Weather worries. If you wait for a perfect day to go outside, you’ll get precious little nature time. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing,” says Erickson.
How to Cope
Make nature time part of the workday. Erickson suggests scheduling time to be in nature as a regular part of your routine, and treating it like any other recurring appointment. “Let your friends and associates know ahead of time that you will be away from your desk at a certain time of the day,” she advises. “Set up an auto-reply on your email and a message on your phone answering machine that lets people know when you will be reachable again.”
Try “tamed” nature. If you’re apprehensive about the outdoors, remember that you don’t need to plunge into a trackless forest or buy a lot of fancy protective gear to enjoy nature. “A short walk in a formal park or on a carefully maintained nature trail gives you what you need: access to living, growing things,” says Erickson.
Enjoy a nature “snack.” An outdoor jaunt doesn’t need to be long to be renewing. Even a few moments tending a front-porch container garden can help you feel refreshed and recentered. (For more on this topic, see “The Kitchen Garden.”)
Grab nature time when you’re on the road. Erickson keeps a canvas folding chair in her car and settles into it for 15-minute outdoor breaks when she finds herself near parks or other green spaces.
Get a group together. Erickson takes daily walks with a group of friends around the lake near her Minneapolis home. Being part of a group makes keeping up the outdoor habit — or any new habit — easier, she says.
The art of aromatherapy stimulates senses — and promotes health and relaxation — with nature-based smells.
One of the most effective and pleasant practices to come out of the world of herbal medicine is aromatherapy — the use of aromatic essential oils derived from herbs and other plants to enhance physical and psychological well-being. And, while aromatherapy is available at spas, it’s easy for anyone to incorporate it into daily life, says Pam Conrad, RN, BSN, PGd, CCAP, a certified clinical aromatherapist and medical educator based in Indianapolis, Ind. It can also be used to aid relaxation and recovery in medical settings: Clinical aromatherapy is often used to help mothers relax in childbirth and to help cancer patients cope with chemotherapy nausea.
Origins: Healing with aromatic oils and herbs is ancient — the Greek physician Hippocrates was an advocate — but modern aromatherapy began with French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé’s work in the 1920s and ’30s. Robert B. Tisserand brought the French techniques to the English-speaking world with his 1978 book, The Art of Aromatherapy, and since then, aromatherapy has thrived here in both clinical and spa settings.
Benefits: “The main benefit of both clinical and nonclinical aromatherapy is relaxation,” says Conrad. “It’s a safe, simple therapy for reducing stress and for promoting all the good things that come with that — and for furthering deep sleep.” Aromatic oils also have stimulating properties. “Mint and rosemary oils are particularly uplifting,” says Conrad. Certain oils have antibacterial and antiviral properties that can help you stay healthy in flu season, and mint, ginger and lavender oils help alleviate nausea.
Simple Steps: Though you can enjoy aromatherapy treatments at most spas today, it’s also easy to self-treat with oils. You can rub a drop or two of a favorite essential oil between your hands, then wave them around for a quick lift, or use a candle-warmed diffuser like the one below to send a continual, warm aroma flow into your room. Essential-oil-laced water spritzers are great for freshening the air without overly perfuming it. There are also a number of diffuser products that plug into a wall outlet or a dashboard cigarette lighter.
Whatever method you choose, be respectful about using aromatherapy anywhere but your personal space, because some people are quite sensitive to fragrances.
Conrad suggests that you first consult a competent aromatherapist or a Web site, like that of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (www.naha.org) or the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (www.alliance-aromatherapists.org), where you can learn which oils do what and how to apply them. There are a few cautions: Use only pure, nonsynthetic, oils; make sure to dilute oils intended for skin application with an unscented carrier oil such as almond or apricot; use externally only; and avoid overuse, which will make the oils less effective. If you are pregnant or have a serious illness, consult with a clinical aromatherapist or your healthcare professional before using.
This article originally appeared as “Stuck Inside.”