“The seasons and all their changes are in me”, a quote by Henry David Thoreau captures how humans have an innate connection with nature. Our survival once relied on understanding the change of the seasons, but now we commercialize it like focusing on Fall fashion trends, what landscape will make the best Instagram post, what artificially flavored drink is the most autumnal and forget to stop and see the beauty that is around us. We are told what Fall should look like and how to enjoy it rather than being encouraged to make something out of it ourselves by getting outside and experiencing it firsthand.
It is easy to become wrapped up in our daily tasks and assignments, missing what is occurring around us. We seek fulfillment in completion of work and often burn ourselves out in the process. Unfortunately, in the middle of a pandemic, the work feels more laborious and the ways we seek enjoyment may not be possible, including your own Fall traditions. As we adjust our normalcies and routines to this pandemic, maybe it is also time to reevaluate our connection to nature that may be missing or we have set aside that could benefit our own health and wellbeing. As cliché as it sounds, nature does have a way of healing. Studies have shown us that exposure to natural spaces has both psychological and physiological benefits to our health. The main factor here is stress reduction. One study measured cortisol levels (known as the “stress hormone”) of participants before and after visiting both natural and urban sites. There was a significant decrease in cortisol levels for participants exposed to natural sites but not urban sites. Although, this isn’t just about “feeling a little less stressed” because cortisol is a crucial hormone for bodily functions, and fluctuating levels of cortisol can lead to disease susceptibility, anxiety, depression, and ultimately compromised health. As we take proper precaution for our own and others’ health concerning Covid-19, we should be adding a Fall walk to our list of precautionary measures for our personal wellbeing.
The psycho-evolutionary theory suggests that the effectiveness of natural environments at educing levels of stress is because it offers specific attributes of inherent survival qualities that are simple necessities of life. So in a way, immersing ourselves in nature allows us to separate from created stressors and tune into a state of being which focuses simply on living. This theory also suggests that nature has “restorative influences,” providing a shift towards a positive emotional state and improved physiological activity levels which together assist in our attention and intake. So, once we return to our stressful tasks, the time spent in a natural space could provide a better mindset to effectively complete what must be done.
Clearly, natural spaces are nothing but beneficial for both the environment and human health. Preserving areas of wilderness protects biodiversity, fights the effects of climate change, conserves species and much more. Even smaller areas like the Ashley Schiff Preserve can protect an entire ecosystem while surrounded by development. These conserved areas, when visited respectfully, provide a window into the natural world and an opportunity to appreciate nature in all of its forms and ways of transforming while giving us an opportunity to find peace of mind.
There are only a few weeks left until the leaves will blanket the ground and the weather will become a little more suited for a day inside rather than out. And while there is nothing wrong with having a sweet Fall drink or buying a ceramic pumpkin to “artificially” celebrate this season of change, we can’t push aside the natural beauty of Autumn that may help us feel a little more at ease in a stress-ridden world. A study at the University of Exeter found that individuals who spent two hours a week in natural spaces were substantially more likely to report improved health and wellbeing than those who did not.
Only two hours a week! I encourage you to spend that time in the last weeks of Fall relishing in the ways the environment is transforming and hopefully finding a break in end of semester stress, allowing the “restorative influences” of nature to make a little bit of a change in yourself.
Clare Dana is a sophomore marine science and environmental studies double major from Long Island. She hopes to bring awareness of environmental issues and conservation in her studies and future career and volunteered with the Ashley Schiff Preserve in hopes to do just that for the campus community while meeting other students who share the same passion.