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The healing power of nature
Mental Health

The healing power of nature

By Renee Dillard, LCSW, EAP Counselor
Posted: May 29, 2020

It’s summer time! Like most events of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the start to summer feels different.

The school year and graduation season drifted to an ambiguous end. Working remotely and quarantining have blurred the boundaries for work-life balance. And our summer vacation plans have likely been cancelled or altered significantly.

These past few months have been a time of uncertainty, anxiety and great adaptation. As our communities begin the slow and steady process of opening back up, this is a perfect time to get outside, enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, the sounds of birds singing, the scent of honeysuckle and roses … and a time to enjoy the healing benefits of time in nature.

Summer has arrived and we can claim the healing power of some fun in the sun!

As we continue to social distance and wear masks to protect our neighbors, we can take advantage of the many beautiful natural areas throughout the Mid-South. Time spent outdoors — hiking in the woods or strolling along the Mississippi River, fishing in your favorite lake or walking through your neighborhood — is good for us physically and emotionally. 

Multiple studies around the globe demonstrate this truth. The Japanese have been practicing and studying “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing” — which simply means taking in the forest through all of our senses — for years with evidence illuminating the numerous benefits for both mind and body. And the Icelandic Forestry Service has found a solution for social isolation: hug a tree. The service encourages people to maintain social distancing from people and to cuddle up to a tree instead.

They promise relaxation and re-set for a new day and new challenges.

Whether tree hugging or forest bathing is your thing or not, the goal is to find some way to get outside close to home and enjoy the beauty all around us. A study published last year in Scientific Reports found that we can benefit from spending at least 120 minutes a week in natural environments. Those benefits include better health and higher psychological well-being.

Time in nature offers a new perspective on life circumstances, reduces stress and allows quality time alone — or with friends and family. Benefits are evident whether we spend two hours on one long hike, or spend briefer times in nature throughout the week.

Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirms this encouragement to get outdoors, directing us to visit parks, trails and open spaces as a way to relieve stress, get some fresh air and vitamin D, stay active and safely connect with others.

The following guidelines are important to remember:

Know before you go: While these facilities and areas can offer health benefits, it is important that you follow the steps below to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

DO visit parks that are close to your home

DO prepare before you visit and wear a mask around others

DO stay at least 6 feet away from others and take other steps to prevent COVID-19.

DO play it safe around swimming pools. Keep space between yourself and others.

DON’T visit parks if you are sick or were recently exposed to COVID-19

DON’T visit crowded parks

DON’T use playgrounds

DON’T participate in organized activities or sports

Time in the great outdoors is good for us! Let’s take advantage of the healing power of nature, especially this summer when we can all benefit from some extra time of renewal and restoration.

My favorite outdoor experience these days is hiking along a forest path, sunlight glistening through the trees, with blue sky expanding above and a body of water nearby. Walking in nature really is a multi-sensory experience. Deep awareness of what I am seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling cultivates mindfulness in the moment, a centering perspective, and a deep sense of gratitude.

Find your favorite way to spend time outdoors in a nearby park or in your own backyard, and give thanks for the benefit in mind, body, and spirit. Enjoy!

You can talk to a counselor about any life challenge by calling Methodist Healthcare EAP at 901-683-5658 to schedule a free, confidential appointment.


Renee Dillard, LCSW


Renee Dillard is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. A native Memphian, Renee earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Memphis State University, Masters of Science in Social Work from The University of Tennessee, and her Masters of Divinity from Memphis Theological Seminary. She is an Ordained Minister in the United Methodist Church. Renee has experience in behavioral health, grief and loss, and community based social work. She is passionate about promoting healing and hope for individuals, families, and our community. Renee loves time with her family, meaningful conversations, getting lost in a good book, and exploring nature through a long walk on a beautiful day.


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