Look, I love NYC—and I don't consider myself a hardcore outdoorsy person (a camping vacation sounds like an oxymoron to me), so my slightly-out-of-character moments of nature appreciation have been met with a raised eyebrow from my family and friends. "What on earth are you doing down there?" they'd ask. "Aren't you worried about bugs?"
"Nope," I'd reply, eyes closed, with a blissful smile on my face as the act of reclining on a bed of lush, green grass (rather than a subway seat) filled me with inexplicable joy.
But actually, it's not that inexplicable—because licensed clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, Psy.D says there's a lot of science behind this emotional phenomenon. I asked Dr. Daramus to explain the practice called grounding and to share how it can legitimately be used as a therapeutic experience.
Anyone can experience grounding just by going outside and using all five senses to connect yourself to the present moment.
"Memory, attention, emotion, and our sense of safety are connected neurologically," Dr. Daramus says. "Positive emotions activate the pleasure centers of the brain and reduce electrical activity in the survival-oriented parts of the brain...You might be more grounded (and therefore paying less attention to worries!), activating your pleasure centers by noticing beauty and bringing back happy memories."
But you don't have to have grown up in a rural setting or abandon an urban environment entirely to experience the benefits of grounding. Anyone can participate just by going outside and using all five senses to connect yourself to the present moment, Dr. Daramus says.
"Grounding works by getting you out of your own head so that you’re not paying attention to any worries...or even minor physical discomfort that might kill your mood," she says. "It’s a great way to make the most of your time in nature. There’s walking in a park, and then there’s walking in a park while you notice the blue of the sky, the texture and scent of a flower, or the sound of wind in the trees."
"There’s walking in a park, and then there’s walking in a park while you notice the blue of the sky, the texture and scent of a flower, or the sound of wind in the trees."
Another sense that I've found helps me feel grounded? My sense of taste. Any time you need a break, EVOLVE®—a delicious, on-the-go plant protein shake designed to power all your outdoor adventures—can help you feel connected to the outdoors, one sip at a time.
If you can relate to my desire for peace amidst a non-stop lifestyle, keep reading for Dr. Daramus' recommendations for how and why you should use nature to achieve it—even if you don't have access to a grassy front yard.
1. Grounding can be a boon for your mental health
One of the main benefits of grounding is the way it supports mental health—and science confirms it. "Spending time in nature enhances mental health by helping to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress," Dr Daramus says. "Not only do people report a subjective sense that they feel better, but biomarkers like reduction in cortisol and blood pressure are connected to having more green space around you."
2. Grounding can boost your productivity
Consider this the case for building some outdoor downtime into your schedule—especially if it's a busy one: “'Nonproductive' time in nature is great for productivity," Dr. Daramus says.
A 2018 review in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health showed that memory, cognitive flexibility, and attention control are improved after exposure to natural environments. So find your nearest park and go take a walk (without checking your phone the whole time). Your productivity levels will thank you when you get back to work.
3. The benefits of grounding can be enjoyed in urban areas
"You don’t have to go off the grid or live in a rural area to benefit from regular contact with natural spaces," Dr. Daramus says. "The same benefits are experienced by people who live in urban areas, as long as they have access to parks, lakefronts, gardens, or other green spaces."
The more immersive you can make the experience, the better, Dr. Daramus says, but it's not an all or nothing proposition. Some of her top suggestions for connecting to nature no matter where you are include growing herbs or succulents indoors, adopting a pet, watching a thunderstorm out the window—or, you know, lying in the grass in your front yard, plant protein shake in hand.
Top photo: Stocksy/Jamie Grill Atlas
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