Humans have been around for millions of years, and we used to roam the earth in small, equal, interconnected groups working in connection and harmony with the natural world; the “Great Mother”. Agrarian society and modern times, however, have left our human psyche to the idea that nature is something to be conquered and owned (Elise Loehnen). What we know, now, is that connection to nature has a massive impact on mental wellbeing, physical health, and life on our home planet.
Wherever you’re from, nature should be available. As Vermonters, many of us recognize the importance of being outside and access to clean and green spaces, but few of us realize how this is very much not the case for many communities. Natural elements that provide well being include trees, diverse vegetation, local biodiversity, water features, parks, and gardens. A study found that nearly 50% of people polled said they weren’t connecting with nature often enough to help their mental health (Mental Health Foundation). The feeling of bare feet in dew-coated grass, the view from the top of a mountain, even a dip in the ocean are things unavailable to many.
People of all ages and abilities enjoy higher levels of health and wellbeing when they have nature nearby. Stress is lowered, illness and mortality decrease, and even greater social capital results in those who regularly get outside. People’s connectedness with nature is “key for feeling that life is worthwhile, nearly four times larger than the increase associated with socio-economic status” (Mental Health Foundation). There are also direct medical benefits to being outside and breathing fresh air, plus, more plants and animals equal more carbon capture and clean air in surrounding areas. It has been found that direct experiences with nature “form a sense of stewardship and active care for the environment which is vital for the protection of a life-sustaining planet now and in the future” (APHA).
This is something we at Pennywise are hoping to champion in the coming years. Climate change isn’t some far-off threat anymore, something our grandchildren will have to deal with, we are living it. The world is up in flames and drowning in rising sea levels and glacial ice melt, and a society removed from these natural cries for help is a society that will remain complacent.
There are ways we can develop our connectedness with nature. Activities that involve the senses can help develop a connection to the natural world, as well as activities where we feel emotions such as “compassion, perceive beauty, or find connection in nature” (Mental Health Foundation). Nature is available everywhere, but high quality nature, i.e. outdoor spaces that are both clean and green, two things necessary for positive mental effects, aren’t available equally.
Access to the outdoors is both disproportionate and vital to mental health and environmental sustainability. We need mentally well people who are connected to our earth, not wanting to conquer it, to divest from fossil fuels, spread awareness, and begin to reverse an age-old school of thought about how humans exist on this planet. The ski industry, in particular, can be economically exclusive. During a season where many don’t get outside, increased access to outdoor industries like this can have huge impacts. An industry that, if nothing is done about our deteriorating climate, will soon scarcely exist at all.
On Our Best Behavior — Elise Loehnen
Improving Health and Wellness through Access to Nature
Nature: How connecting with nature benefits our mental health
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