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Image / Self / Advice

How getting out in nature can boost you this autumn


By Niamh Ennis
11th Sep 2023
How getting out in nature can boost you this autumn

Now that we are into September I feel free to fully indulge in all things autumnal.

I like to think that the best visual representation of this, my favourite season, are trees. It might sound strange but my relationship with trees feels like it has only just begun. I came to trees late in my life. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I came to nature fairly late too. It wasn’t until my early forties that I became aware that those elements that made up my environment, were not merely there for aesthetic reasons, but had much deeper benefits, if only I allowed myself open up to them.

In my late thirties, I experienced three very close bereavements in relatively quick succession, and so when I emerged from under all the emotional rubble, I began searching for something, anything, that would help me move through the grief and ideally help me make sense of it all. I see now that this also coincided with me, for the first time, noticing what I had never paid attention to before; events such as sunrise, sunsets, the moon, the planets, even the seasons felt like new experiences. I’d been living in the midst of them, all of my life, but had spent that time so clearly in my own head that I was oblivious to anything happening outside of my own world.

The increase in awareness wasn’t instant. It wasn’t exactly like the flicking of a switch, with me suddenly becoming more responsive to my surroundings. It happened slowly and gradually. What I acknowledge now, is that in face nothing at all had changed, other than I was learning just how to open myself up to what was going on around me, in a way I hadn’t been prepared to do before.

Grief makes you do funny things. You become so desperate for any sign that you’re healing, that you’ll try anything. Ironically, it is that very act of trying, of opening up, that instigates the healing itself. Following my own loss, I simply didn’t know who I was anymore. I was searching frantically for answers as to what could make me feel even a little bit better.

I tried so many things. I moved country for a year. I returned. I left my permanent pensionable career. I moved house. I upskilled. I set up a new business. I moved from the city to the countryside. I’m not even sure that I’m done moving yet, but I’ve been here among the trees now for almost six years, and I feel safer and more grounded that I have in the longest time. This is home. For now.

Who knows, when my healing feels more complete, perhaps I’ll move back to my home in the city, or perhaps this will become my forever home. I’ve chosen to surrender to the outcome and trust that it will lead me where I’m supposed to me.

When I was in the city, I lived by the sea which always felt powerful and expansive. Being here among the trees feels totally different; but it also feels liberating, grounding and secure. We need different things at different stages of our lives and that applies to places too.

Trees share with us the stories of the past and they’re also vital in our future survival. The environmental benefits are already so well documented and we’re learning just what an incredibly positive effect trees, and being among them, has on our health and wellness. For example, did you know that the very act of hugging a tree will increase your levels of oxytocin, the hormone that’s responsible for helping you feel calm and connected?

We also know that our physical environment plays a significant role in our mental health. When it comes to research around trees, the Japanese, of course, are considered the leaders in this area and in 2019 carried medical empirical research on the real benefits of forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku. They discovered that those who walked through the forest for fifteen minutes a day reported that they were experiencing less anxiety, less depression and just felt more connected and energised.

When you’re among trees, something magical happens and time seems to leave you feeling more able to decelerate and reflect. Early each morning, as I walk through my local forest with my dog Bella, I’m constantly surprised by the variety of thoughts and ideas that land, as I move along. Maybe it’s because they too grow at such a slow rate, who knows but that feeling is pretty mesmerizing. There’s a gentleness about trees that is hard to articulate and all the more surprising because of their size and stature.

THREE SMALL WAYS TO INSTANTLY CONNECT WITH TREES

If you’re like me and are a little in love with trees then you might consider one of these ways to deepen your connection with them:

Gift a tree. My niece gave birth in the United States recently and what better way to remind our latest family addition that he now has roots waiting for him here in Ireland than giving him the gift of his own tree. This is such a thoughtful, affordable and sustainable gift www.grownforest.ie

Get out among them. Park your inhibitions and go outside and hug a tree. If you feel self-conscious about doing that, then just stand beside one and put your hands on its trunk and close your eyes. Do this often enough and you’ll soon be able to feel an energy from them. If you’re near County Wicklow go to the forest at Avondale and do the Treetop Walk- it’s 23m high and begins as the boardwalk makes its way out over the Avonmore River valley. It’s impossible to put this experience into words but just promise yourself if you can that you’ll do it! beyondthetreesavondale.com

Read all about them. And if all of that sparks a deeper interest in you, then you absolutely have to read the New York Times bestseller The Hidden life of Trees by Peter Wohllehben; in which he describes how sociable trees are, how they take care of each other just like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and even warn each other of impending dangers.

As someone who forever lives in her head where, trust me, it can get extremely noisy; nothing centres me or regulates my system quite so quickly or profoundly like being in the company of trees. There’s no shame in being a tree hugger – in fact you’ll feel the benefits pretty immediately if you’re ready to give it a go. Appreciate what’s all around you in your local park, a nearby woods or even in your own back garden. Observe how the trees change as they move through the seasons and, who knows, you might even start to notice that same change happening in you.

Photography by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash.

Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach and author of Get Unstuck who through her private practice, writings, programmes, workshops and podcast has inspired and helped thousands of people to make significant changes in their lives. She’s an accredited Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach and the Lead Coach in the IMAGE Business Club. If you’re ready to tackle an area in your life, Niamh is hosting an intimate, online group programme later this autumn. For more info, check it out here at ‘What if’. Follow Niamh on Instagram @1niamhennis or niamhennis.com.