It’s fairly well known that experiencing the natural world is a major boost to your mental health. But as well as giving you a chance to recharge, surrounding yourself with nature can make a huge difference when you’re going through the grieving process. In this article we look at how you might consider using nature to help you through grief, when you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one.
A Hugely Rewarding Experience
It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about nature that is such an aid to improved mental health. For one person it can be the time alone, giving them the opportunity to work through their thoughts and feelings. For another it will be the time out from the hectic pace of a city and the reduced stress that often comes with it. Or it may simply be the majesty of an awe-inspiring natural wonder that is enough of a distraction to break the cycle of sadness just enough to help someone reconnect with themselves in a more positive way.
And as grief is such an intensely personal thing there is no right or wrong way of how an individual approaches it. But nature can really be a hugely rewarding experience in helping you overcome your grief. And it’s effective in helping children come to terms with grief too.
Why Using Nature to Help You Through Grief is Powerful
“People instinctively turn to outdoor and nature-loving activities as a way of relaxing and enhancing their well-being. Nature can aid in facilitating self-awareness and promoting healing. For many the outdoors is a source of inspiration, solace, guidance and regeneration.”
“Time spent outdoors can be restorative and healing. Whether running through a canyon, walking on the sunny beach, hiking through a fern-filled forest, scrambling over rocks along a creek side, watching the last few rays of the setting sun, strolling along a moonlit night, or just sitting breathing fresh clean air, being out in nature is one of the best prescriptions for overall health and encouraging healing.”
Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, Nature Awareness as a Therapeutic Modality
Breaking the Cycle of Rumination
One problem people who are grieving suffer from is rumination. (Those who are suffering anxiety or depression, or similar mental health issues also suffer from rumination.) The Response Styles Theory proposed in 1998 by Nolen-Hoeksema defines rumination in the following way:
‘Rumination is the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.’
From a psychological and therapeutic perspective ruminating about things is not helpful. Ruminating about your loss, your sadness, your guilt and the other negative emotions of grief is associated with longer, more intense grieving symptoms.
A 2015 study by Stanford University researchers found that people who walked in nature showed less activity in a region of the brain that is active during rumination. The study compared two groups of people; one group walked for 90 minutes among grass and trees, the other walked for 90 minutes along a busy four-lane road.
The Calming Effects of Water
In 2016, a study conducted by American Scientists in New Zealand found that higher levels of blue space visibility, that is bodies of water, were also associated with lower psychological distress.
As well as the vast expanse of water that can feel relaxing to be around anyway, there is also the sound of the waves lapping at the shore. There’s an almost hypnotic rhythm to that sound.
Speaking on the subject in The Guardian, Marine biologist Dr Wallace Nichols said that ‘seeing water can promote wellness and relaxation by inducing a flood of neurochemicals that increase the flow of blood to the brain and heart.’
Dr Nichols also added that the sound of waves can alter a person’s brain patterns, inducing a deeply relaxed state that is similar to meditation.
More Benefits of Using Nature to Help You Through Grief
When you’re coping with grief it can be mentally exhausting, but by taking some time with nature you can help rest your mind and get some physical exercise too. The power of nature can force you to interrupt any unhelpful negative thought patterns.
You Can Have Solitude
Taking time out with nature gives you the time and space to think about things and process your feelings. It needn’t be a mountain expedition either, a walk in the woods or a country bike ride can be the perfect opportunity to help you gather your thoughts.
You Can Disconnect from the World (and Technology)
The world is busy and getting busier. There are cars, buses and people everywhere. And of course as a generation we’re addicted to screens, particularly the ones we carry in our pockets. When you’re grieving unplugging yourself from the modern world for a time can be a serious help and really boost your mental and physical health.
Natural Wonders are Wonderful
The natural world has some beautiful scenery and breathtaking elements. When you’re coping with grief the world can seem grey but by exploring nature your attention is naturally drawn to its drama and can help you feel like there is light in the world again.
You Can Meet New People
Be it a therapeutic hike or a simple bike ride being outdoors gives you the opportunity to meet like-minded people if you feel ready. You will find getting outdoors offers you the opportunity to meet new people or invite your friends along. You’ll find it can really help you in coming to terms with your grief.
As Kirsti A Dyer puts it:
“Being in nature one becomes aware of the infinite circle of life. There is evidence of decay, destruction and death; there are also examples of rejuvenation, restoration, and renewal. The never-ending cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth can put life and death into perspective and impart a sense of constancy after experiencing a life-changing loss or a death.”
Whatever your own reason for taking in nature as part of your journey in overcoming grief, nature can be a source of support. And with grief there’s no time-scale. If you start off with a ten-minute walk in the woods, tell yourself that’s ok. You will eventually get to a place where you’ve come to terms with your bereavement and can look forward again.