Healthy Mind

4 Ways Mindfulness Can Boost Your Mental Health and Help the Environment

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The pursuit of presence is an essential part of being a person. It’s pretty important for the planet, too. The chaos and uncertainty that come with climate change make virtues like composure, awareness, and connectivity all the more important, allowing us to show up as our best selves and better environmental stewards. Fortunately, mindfulness—the act of “paying attention, on purpose, with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgment,” in the words of Jon Kabat Zin—is also an innate human practice, and one that can be tapped into with time, space, and daily attention.

“Even in an urban environment—sitting by a window, in the morning perhaps, with your tea or coffee—and simply setting an intention to be present for the morning is a powerful way to begin,” says Micah Mortali, founder of the School for Outdoor Mindful Leadership at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Mortali recommends allowing 10-15 minutes a day to just be, breathing and noticing your surroundings. “This simple practice, done regularly over time, can be a powerful tool for bonding with place,” he says.

According to mental health coach and counselor Julie Geeting, mental health coach and counselor at PALM Health, even tuning into your senses when washing your hands can put you on a path to a more mindful existence. “I’ve noticed that the demands of life often get in the way, and then people say, ‘I’ve tried that, it didn’t work for me,’” says Geeting. By focusing on a more integrative approach, mindfulness becomes a more sustainable practice—and can lead to a more sustainable life. “A person can use mindfulness practices as a beginning point to deepen their understanding of who they are and how they are connected to the world around them,” says Geeting.

Like many aspects of environmentalism, this shift is personal but revolutionary—an individual act that benefits the collective in major ways. “The more love we feel flowing between us and the life that is present all around us, the more motivated we will be to take action in our own lives to care for the more-than-human world,” says Mortali. “Mindful engagement with the natural world is just a breath away.”

Here, four ways that mindfulness can better your health and that of the planet.

4 ways mindfulness benefits you and the environment

1. Calm and positivity

The state of the environment is top-of-mind in the modern world, so much so that it has resulted in a new mode of mental stress:climate anxiety. A 2021 study published in the journal Nature surveyed 10,000 young people, 45 percent of which said their “feelings about climate change impacted their daily lives.”

Though prioritizing the planet is crucial, doing the work from a place of peace and with a hopeful spirit is likely to deliver more results. Enter: mindfulness. “Increasing one’s ability to be present has the potential to increase positive emotions and a sense of calmness,” says Geeting.

“When one can observe one’s thoughts, patterns, and habitual reactions, the ability to respond consciously rather than react emotionally, becomes available,” says Mortali. “This leads to more skillfulness in life, less suffering, and, hopefully, greater happiness.” Improving the state of our world will be work—but we may as well strive to enjoy it, and to execute with thought and purpose rather than fear.

2. Awareness of daily habits

We all want to care for our planet. Unfortunately, that general desire doesn’t always translate to our everyday actions, which tend to skew mindless rather than mindful. “Many of our daily habits have been automated by our brains and we don’t think much about why we do certain things and what the greater impact might be,” says Geeting. “Growing in awareness can help us reflect on these habits to see if they are coherent with the kind of person we wish to be.”

From the products purchased to chosen modes of transport to dietary habits, a bit of extra attention and intention can be the difference between longing for a more eco-minded lifestyle and actually acting on that desire. “A mindfulness practice can enhance self-knowledge and increase the likelihood that a person will notice the thoughts, emotions, and sensations they are experiencing—and be able to respond to their life in a way that is helpful and aligned with their goals and values.”

3. Appreciation of nature

Hopefully, you find yourself outside on a daily basis. But how often do you slow down and look around? “Stop and smell the roses” may be a cliché, but honoring the majesty of nature is anything but trivial—and it boasts major benefits for you, too.

“Our nervous system responds to natural settings,” says Mortali. “It may be that mindful states of awareness were more a part of normal life when we were immersed in our natural habitat, the outdoors.” Practicing mindfulness is not only made easier with nature’s help, but it also helps us to wake up to our surroundings. “Perhaps by spending more time walking with awareness outdoors, conscious of our breathing, and curious about what we can perceive through our senses, we can enjoy more of the beauty and fascination that is all around us,” says Mortali.

4. Increased connection

How can we hope to improve our relationship with the environment if we fail to recognize that we are a part of it? Staying mindful helps to ease the illusion of separateness and allows us to accept that our action (and society’s inaction) affects every aspect of the natural world, including but not limited to the human species, the weather, the ocean, wildlife, our present, and our collective future. Living from this place naturally leads to a more thoughtful, environmentally conscious existence.

“As a person feels increased connectivity, they often see the natural world and their own lives in a fresh way,” says Geeting. “This is essential to sustainable well-being.” Mortali agrees: “It’s the bonds we form with the land we live on that catalyze caretaking of the planet.”

The takeaway? Take the time you need to still your mind—it may just save the world.

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