Above: Seal Bay Beach in Courtenay provides a respite from city life and travel. It is home to many species of waterbirds and, of course, seals.

By contributor Chantelle Spicer

In this time of looming deadlines, all-nighters, and end-of-term stresses, moments of psychological well-being appear to be a dream. I am here to tell you that this is possible. All it requires are things which are abundant around us—trees, waterways, scenic landscapes, and quiet spaces. Bring your own breath.

More and more studies show that time spent in the natural environment refocuses our attention, lessens stress, and encourages our bodies and minds to heal. It is even now being shown that your mind is re-mapped—new synapses are created—while you engage with natural settings. Dr. Alan Logan, researcher of naturopathic medicine focusing on environmental variables, states that your brain physically and chemically reacts to nature in particular ways, resulting in these psychological impacts.

In a recent interview with David Suzuki, Logan further explained: “Sophisticated brain-imaging techniques show that when healthy adults view nature scenes rich in vegetation,” he said. “Areas of the brain associated with emotional stability, empathy, and love are more active. These same pathways are activated when a person looks at pictures of a loved one.”

It is also proving to be effective in healing and restoring the body. Physician Robert Ulrich conducted a study in 2004 which showed that hospital patients who have a view of trees or landscape spend less time in the hospital than those of a control group. These effects are not fleeting either—they endure within us through our brain chemistry, enhancing your entire life and your community in unexpected ways.

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However, we often do not need science to explain the very real feelings we have while being present in a natural setting. Personally, these experiences in nature allow me to surrender to being present in the moment, enjoy the light shining through the tree canopies, and experience the quality of silence. These natural encounters leave me feeling refreshed, thankful, and, often times, more prepared to take on previously overwhelming activities. Here on Vancouver Island, we do not have to go far to experience this. Colliery Dam Park and Morrell Sanctuary, near our VIU campus, is rich with wildlife, peaceful waters which reflect the tree-line, and walks under the branches of bigleaf maples dripping with moss. Bowen Park is another of these sacred green spaces within the city, playing host to one of nature’s greatest events—the salmon run. These moments
in nature allow me to step outside myself, gaining perspective of the world and my place in it.

Most of us reading this have been spending more time in front of computers, in the library and classrooms, or sleeping. And we are not alone in this disconnection. With more and more people living in cities, humans are experiencing nature deprivation. If being in nature brings on a sense of purpose and happiness, we can all imagine what depriving ourselves of that does—mood disorders and depression. It is not only computers that are to blame, as many cities around the world don’t have natural element components within their city planning. Charles Montgomery, an architect and proponent
of happier cities, highlights the importance of incorporating more green spaces to create a thriving and creative atmosphere.

“We need to weave more nature into dense, disconnected urban environments, more chances to touch nature, to garden together, with parks offering a place for us to grow and learn together as a community.”

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The roots of a Cedar tree in Milner Gardens, of Qualicum Beach, showcase how connected these ecosystems are.

Movements such as urban forests, community food forests and gardens, as well as an increase in public parks are becoming more prevalent on a global level. Here in Nanaimo, the once overgrown and neglected area known as Cappy Yates Park is undergoing major revitalization. Coordinators of this park rejuvenation, including Douglas Wortley of the Young Professionals of Nanaimo, understood need for more urban parks, stating, “Green spaces are very important for the mental and physical health of the people that live in urban environments. Many people in downtown Nanaimo live in an apartment and do not have easy access to nature. City parks can provide a vibrant communal space for recreation and socializing that is removed from the hazards of traffic.”

Spaces like this will allow the Nanaimo public to interact with each through nature, diversifying communities, plant life, and wildlife accessibility. By utilizing our natural spaces, whether through forests, beaches, or parks, we are enriching our individual health and the vibrancy of our communities. This builds a sense of unity, supporting and being supported by others, and a stronger feeling of belonging all enhanced by the natural environment.

Regardless of age, culture, gender, or social background, nature has a powerful effect on our lives. While standing near the ocean, walking under fall leaves, or simply sitting in one of our beautiful campus gardens, you are enriching your life.

By encouraging our local municipality to increase or improve our existing green spaces, you are making this more available to others as well as doing something to make our city a little more sustainable. Few things in this world are win-win, but this happens to be one of them. Enjoy some much deserved time outdoors, everyone.


 

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