How to Engage with Nature While Staying Home

As states reopen and the weather warms up, many people are emerging from shelter to stretch their legs, see their friends and begin to work out what life will look like for the next few months. The change of season has been a particularly strong stress-reliever for many, since the risk of transmitting disease is much lower in outdoor spaces and summer light, greenery and animal activity brings big mood benefits.

However, COVID-19 is still prevalent in many parts of the country and lockdown is far from over for many high-risk individuals and their loved ones. Those of us who aren’t high risk may be spending extra time at home, too, with commutes and summer camps cancelled. If you or someone you know is staying home and missing out on summertime perks, fear not: you can get all the mental health benefits of spending time outdoors and experience the season from your own house, or even your own bedroom.

happy woman opening drapes to look outside window at sunny day

Open Things Up

It’s easy for me to leave my blinds, windows and doors shut: I don’t want any neighbors peeking at my life, after all, or bugs to find their way inside, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. But remember that when you shut out the outside world, you shut yourself in as well. Break out of the box that is your house, apartment or room by committing to spend at least 10 minutes looking outside each day.

Sit on your porch, in your doorway or next to an open window. I like to hang out on my stoop while eating breakfast, and take that time to check in with the weather, wildlife and human noises in my area. Beyond those ten minutes, I love to leave my door or a window open to let outside sounds and smells in. If you can, I’d recommend that you do the same: the more senses you can stimulate the better. I feel more connected to my environment and at peace, and I don’t need to get up from my desk!

If you can’t leave a window open, try diffusing a particular essential oil while looking outside; you’ll activate an extra sense and over time you’ll come to associate that scent with the peacefulness of nature. Lavender, geranium and other floral scents work particularly well for this. Craving complexity? You can more closely mimic the variety of smells coming from outside by blending different combinations of oils.

red northern cardinal on bird feeder

Get to Know Your Birdy Neighbors

Birds aren’t at all bothered by current events, and lately they’ve been very busy with the breeding season. I find solace in watching them and their antics, their behavior unaffected by the wild year we’ve been having. 

While looking outside, take special note of the birds, what they are doing and where they are. Consider setting up a bird feeder outside of your window--both feeder and food can be purchased online--and acquiring a regional bird guide so that you can learn to identify and learn about the birds in your yard. It’s fun to write down your own observations as well. Thistle will attract finches, peanuts are a favorite of jays, chickadees and woodpeckers, and cardinals and grosbeaks prefer tray feeders with safflower. Take a look at our article about getting started with birding for more tips and recommendations.

The sense of familiarity, joy and entertainment I get from my yard birds is apparently endless. I know them all pretty well now and rarely see a newcomer, but I don’t mind. Over the last few weeks I have watched a dark-eyed junco build a nest in the eaves of my house, lay her eggs and feed her chicks, and yesterday I met one of the recently-fledged youngsters as it hopped over my stoop. Hello, little sparrow!

happy woman at eas in her home filled with plants and an indoor garden

Bring Greenery Inside

If you are staying inside, there’s no reason that nature can’t be inside with you! Cultivate a patio herb garden, a windowsill succulent display or hanging air plants. Proximity to other living things is soothing and companionable, and you can watch your plants grow and make a hobby of it.

Don’t have much of a green thumb? No problem! Get succulents! I’m miserable with plants, but I keep succulents throughout my home and regularly remove clippings. Succulent leaves, when removed carefully, will grow roots and then an entirely new plant when left on moist soil, and I love my colony of tiny plants (and they’re a nice consolation when the parent plants aren’t doing well!).

I also keep a bouquet of flowers near my desk. Whether they’re purchased from the supermarket or picked along the side of the road, cut flowers are the easiest way to bring real liveliness to your space. I like to choose bouquets with a variety of colors and a strong, pleasant scent to engage as many of the senses as possible.

Stay safe, but remember to stay connected with the outside world. The benefits of sunlight, green things, and the sounds of your local, natural community can keep you in touch and feeling well, so make sure to open yourself up to those!

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