Getting outside can reduce depression and increase your happiness.

As our country enters the second month of “staying at home” you may find yourself fighting some fatigue or discouragement (I’ll raise my hand to that!). 

To improve your mood try looking outside your window or taking a stroll around your backyard. Spending time in nature can improve mental health outcomes such as reduced anxiety, better sleep, reduced depression, and overall greater happiness in life satisfaction.  

Nature therapy has even proven to reduce cortisol, a hormone that drives the stress response  (aka “fight or flight”) which occurs when humans face a potential danger.  

Ideas to connect with nature while “staying-at-home”

Read below for creative (and free) ideas on how to improve your connection to nature from within the habitat of your home. 

  1. Grow something
Photo by Markus Spiske, courtesy of Pexels.

Whether you have a backyard to plant vegetables or table space for an herb garden, growing something is an easy, affordable way to connect with nature. Tending to a plant or garden requires us to be caretakers for a small part of nature in our homes. For more ideas on how to start a kitchen herb garden, see this article from Good Housekeeping. 

  1. Rewild Your Family

Outdoor Families’  “Rewilding”  campaign includes instructions and printables for  130 nature inspired learning projects. From instructions to build a solar oven for cooking solar smores to building a catapult from your recyclables; these activities were designed to be completed with supplies already in your home or nature available in your community. 

  1. Bird is the word!

The hobby of bird watching has experienced a surge in popularity recently.  The National Audubon Society reports that downloads of its bird identification app were up 105% during March and April, compared to that time last year and unique visits to its website have increased by half a million views. Birds are especially active now during their migratory season.  Learning to identify birds is a free, rewarding hobby to learn.  Read here to learn more about how to create bird friendly backyard space on a budget. 

Backyard bird watching can be a thrilling look into migratory bird behavior, or a science lesson on using observations for species identification. Photo courtesy of Pexels.
  1. Identify backyard animals and plants with iNaturalist

The iNaturalist app is available on all devices. The app encourages users to make observations, take pictures, and share with a community of backyard scientists. This app also teaches the science of taxonomy by practicing species identification through physical observations. Users can also search for local observations made by others in your immediate community or around the world. 

5. Explore Online Animal Web Cams 

Live feed web cams give you a glimpse of real time animal behaviors in the wild, zoos, and animal sanctuaries. Explore.org is a “live nature network” of hundreds of webcams. Search by geographic area or species to explore this virtual zoo without bars. Read comments by field staff that give up to date information on animal behaviors. I am intrigued by the owl nests from the Owl Research Institute. 

  1.  Watch Nature documentaries 

Check out the Nature and Ecology documentaries available on Netflix. On my watchlist is “Night on Earth” which utilized new technology to film night scenes, revealing the hidden lives of animals.  YouTube also leads to quality nature channels. My family’s favorite is  “Brave Wilderness”.   Host “Coyote” explores nature on land and underwater, but his niche is a never-ending quest of any venomous creatures that elicits an “OMG- he just let WHAT sting him?” response.

Journaling can relieve stress through creativity and deeper consideration of nature. Photo by Retha Ferguson, courtesy of Pexels.
  1. Keep a Journal

Journaling allows for written expression, doodling, bullet lists, anything. Look out the window and write a haiku about your observations. Listen outside and make a list of the sounds you hear. For a list of writing prompts appropriate for older kids or adults, try these nature inspired journaling prompts

  1. Go Stargazing

SkyView Free is one of the best free stargazing apps. Users point the device to the sky and read facts about the planets, constellations and stars they see. Stories about astronauts and their missions can inspire those already interested in astronomy, or pique others’ curiosity.  Another feature is a red-tinged outdoor night mode accompanied with peaceful music to create a celestial atmosphere for evening stargazing. 

  1. Practice Meditation 

Take a walk outside,  leave your headphones at home. Take time to pause, try some slow “yoga breathing ” (in through the nose, out through the mouth). Take note of nature present in your neighborhood. Experiment with meditating on scripture verses or phrases that are meaningful to you. Review this list of the  “25 Best Meditation Resources”  for guided meditations, meditation music, and apps.  

Try backyard camping or setting up an outdoor play space. Photo courtesy of Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels.
  1.  Camp out in your own backyard

This is a fun idea for children who may be missing out on Scout troops or traditional summer camps. Pitch a tent in your backyard or living room, cook outside on the camp stove. Try using a homemade solar oven to cook English muffin pizzas. Play backyard bingo using a Pinterest inspired printable or create your own scavenger hunt. 

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