This past year has been difficult for all of us. COVID-19 has kept us isolated, unable to connect with friends and family. In these stressful times, taking care of our physical health and mental health has never been more important. Research has shown that an effective way to help improve overall mental health is simply to go outside. Spending time in nature, even for as short as 15 minutes a day, has been correlated with reductions in feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, and even helps combat memory loss. In fact, the growing field of “ecotherapy” advocates for connection with the natural world as a remedy to a myriad of mental health issues.
Holly Roger is the Community Programs Coordinator for Wild Whatcom, an organization working to get children and adults connecting with nature. Wild Whatcom sponsors many programs, ranging from “Wild Things”, a weekly outdoor exploration sessions for parents and their kids to a “Ladies Night Out” nature outing for women. Roger says, “Our minds are so busy and cluttered and screen driven, (getting outside) makes your brain take a break. There’s something healing about nature. The sensory experience of being out there and engaging all of your senses. If you slow down and stop and sit, that’s when amazing things can happen.” One parent who participated in these outdoor parent-child sessions, Dani Giddens, felt the benefit of spending time in nature acutely. “Just over a decade ago, I was navigating the tumultuous trail of Postpartum Depression, Anxiety & OCD after the birth of my first child. Little did I know, in those early days, how integral a part hitting the trail would play in my eventual recovery. It was my therapy before I had a therapist.” Giddens said.
Whatcom Land Trust has previously partnered with Wild Whatcom to bring their Girls and Boys Explorers club out to visit a property that Land Trust supporter Diane Garmo plans to donate when she passes or is no longer able to care for it. Students travel out to the property on their early release days to spend time outside learning both naturalist and life skills, and deepening their relationship with and understanding of the outdoors. This experience of finding a sense of wonder and awe in nature is something that the Land Trust is honored to be able to help provide.
Matt Fogarty is a counselor who for the past six years has been working in the Bellingham area. He agrees that time in nature offers antidote to depression and anxiety, allowing us to build our relationship with the world around us by practicing mindfulness. “The more we can kind of lose our mind and come to our senses the more we have the ability to not be overwhelmed by our problems. That sense of connection makes you know you’re not alone. You get that wonder of ‘wow I really am connected’ and you do naturally start to develop connections with the natural world.” Fogarty says, “It’s one of the most natural things we can do. It is who we are.”
Whatcom Land Trust is proud to protect places in Whatcom County where we can all go to find that sense of wonder, awe, and connection, regardless of race, age, or gender. Spending time outdoors and creating and nourishing that relationship with the environment and natural world is important in so many ways, from building our physical health to our mental health, and we couldn’t do it without support from our community!