Post-Pandemic Eco-MindfulnessAug 31, 2021 ● By Brendan M. Cournane
Photo credit maryviolet for Adobe Stock
Many of us are slowly coming out of some sort of chaos. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we may have closed our businesses or halted activities while adapting to near-isolation at home. Goals like staying healthy were made, but habits also changed. Now that society is hopefully on the path to opening up again and embarking on a “new normal”, we can benefit by assessing our current situation, then taking action to reset and achieve new goals.
Over the last 18 months or so, unhealthy behaviors have generally increased due to the pandemic. Whether it is gaining weight due to lack of exercise and comfort food choices or exacerbating mental health and substance abuse issues, we have also seen an increase in hypertension, depression, anxiety and more. In anticipation of returning to our previous lifestyle, it is easy to do too much too soon.
Take It Easy
Stress-induced health issues need to be treated gradually. Like training for a marathon, the return to normalcy needs to be thoughtful. Our bodies and minds are not ready to jump into running 26.2 miles after a long layoff; and likewise, we must ease into physical and psychological elements of our lives. The adjustments should follow the old adage for marathon runners. When setting a new course of action, we must decide whether we are running toward something or away from something. That will set the stage for measuring and achieving our goals.
Instead of doing too much too soon, a more realistic process is being mindful—aware, nonjudgmental and nonreactive—and allowing time for a thorough review of how to achieve the goal. Mindfulness requires focus, thought and concentration, and is enhanced when we couple the process with an appreciation of nature.
The Benefits of Practicing Eco-Mindfulness
We are human beings, not human doings, and in order to be successful, we need to take some time to just be, rather than doing something at all times. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in mindfulness practice, we are searching for an awareness cultivated by purposely paying attention, in the present moment, and in a nonjudgmental manner. Eco-mindfulness, or the art and science of mindfulness in nature, is a burgeoning field that correlates how mindfulness is enhanced with time spent in natural surroundings. According to this theory, nature helps us connect with our senses and calms the mind.
Spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, social and environmental influencers shape our reaction to our daily situations. Environmental influencers include where we work, heat, humidity and sensory perception. When these influences induce catabolic (negative) energy, we have a deleterious and visceral reaction. Using eco-mindfulness, we can turn catabolic energy into anabolic (positive) energy through sensory perception.
With as little as a 30-minute walk, followed by a few minutes of quiet meditation, our perceptions improve. We need not go to the Himalayan mountains or Walden Pond to get natural benefits. Even taking a five-minute work break while looking out a window at nature brings a soothing response to the mind and the body.
Sensory Perception and Nature
Sensory perception and the benefits of mindfulness are further enhanced when we get outdoors and interact with nature. Short-term interaction enhances sensory perception. For example, paying attention during even a 20-to-30-minute walk through a tree-lined park using all five senses expands our awareness and lowers blood pressure, calms the nerves and relaxes the mind.
Sensory perception involves:
Sight: enhanced by looking at the colors of the trees and the grass, the interaction of how sunlight changes the colors of the foliage
Sound: activated by the sounds of birds singing, leaves rustling and trees swaying in the wind
Smell: triggered by the scents of the flowers or fresh air
Taste (buds): activated by fresh air flowing into our lungs or the taste of a light sweat
Touch: feeling the wind flowing across our skin, the temperature and humidity, the ground under our feet
Physiologically, walking through a park brings serenity due to the nature of trees, which remove carbon dioxide from the air and replenish our exhalation with fresh oxygen right from the source. Psychologically, taking a walk in the woods fosters resiliency. Just look at how trees respond to the stress of a strong wind. They sway, but do not break.
Although we may be trying to unlearn bad habits formed during the pandemic, we still have the ability and resources to find our way. Working with a personal or professional development coach can help people identify what might be blocking them and find ways to make progress reaching their goals.
Time spent in nature can be incredibly healing. Healthy activities like running or walking can be great for the mind and body. Finding healthy habits and what works might take some experimenting, but it will strengthen all of our relationships, including those with ourselves.
Brendan M. Cournane is a professional development coach who splits his time between Chicago and Southwestern Michigan. Contact him at CoachBrendan.com.