Healing Power of Nature

by Christine KellyNovember 26, 2019View more posts from Christine Kelly

In June, to celebrate my remission and being together again as a family – my family lives in Manila and I’m in Texas – we took a trip through Colorado, South Dakota, and Wyoming. There, we saw Mount Rushmore National Memorial, visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and went white water rafting. The parks especially were so incredible – so much undeveloped and gorgeous land. It was such a good time of healing for me, being together with my family, and out in nature.

We, as humans, are interconnected with the environment. We depend on the land for so much, and exploit it so much, too. It’s hard to get out of that mindset of taking and into the mindset of appreciating. I realize, too, that I’m still using the environment for personal gains – peace of mind. And maybe taking and appreciating are not in conflict with each other. Regardless, having been in a city, indoors mostly, for so long, during treatment I’d forgotten my emotional connection to nature. Being out in wilderness made me feel connected again, to every living thing. I felt like I was living again instead of just existing and going day to day, surviving, and just not being at peace. Getting out in nature helped me heal after finishing treatment. I was actually able to celebrate two months remission in Yellowstone. The sights and sounds, just wow. Sure, there’s a lot of people, but you can get on some back trails (have your bear spray!) and it’s just you and whoever you’re walking or hiking with and nature.

I think, too, it was a chance for me to prove that I was healthy again. My physical fitness wasn’t what it had been, pre-cancer and treatment (I’m learning not to compare myself to who I used to be, which is a daily struggle, but something I started doing on that trip) and I was able to test my endurance hiking – see how my lung capacity was and how I was doing. I had to learn to take breaks as we went along, but the scenery was so gorgeous that I was happy all the time.

The air is so clean, fresh, and pure out there, up in those heights, too. Even Colorado, back in more populated areas, is still so different from Houston or Austin. It was so refreshing and rejuvenating, an incredible time to reflect on how far I’d come and put the past behind me to a certain extent and just concentrate on being present in the moment and appreciating the world around me. I found this difficult when I’m surrounded by concrete and sparse vegetation, clearly planted and tended by human hands and well-manicured. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but being out in the relative wilderness of national parks… you see herds of bison, mama bears and cubs and bears ripping up logs and you know these are really powerful creatures, and elk with all their babies, too, and just even the smaller animals like little prairie dogs reminded me of how much there is in this world and how much I wanted to rejoin it and stop feeling sorry for myself, stop feeling angry and just get back into a grateful and appreciative mindset. That was something I really struggled with after my treatment ended. Feeling so lost, and working through all the mental, emotional, and spiritual struggles that I ignored and didn’t focus on when I was going through treatment.

A Japanese study relating to forests posits that nature, in addition to increasing feelings of awe, as I described, can relieve symptoms of heart disease, depression, anxiety, attention disorders, and yes, even cancer (Sifferlin). I don’t want to get into that, but have linked the article I read below. Another from the University of Exeter argues that it’s at least two hours in nature that improves health and wellbeing (White). All I can truly share is how incredible it felt and proved to be to get outside and be breathing in air so fresh it nearly hurt.

Now, it’s been five months since the trip, and nearly three since I recorded my thoughts and started writing this. I’ve grown since June, and even more so since August (and so has my hair!). Nature is still just as important for me to feel sane, honestly. It’s a challenge to get out of bed most weekends, but I’ve been able to go to Enchanted Rock and Pedernales Falls in Texas. Such vast amounts of mostly undeveloped land remind me that there’s so much more out there. Sometimes, I just need to get over myself. Especially now that I’m in survivorship mode and can get too caught up in my past or future. In nature, I feel connected to a wider range of living things, God, and can center myself. I return to school and the city (which I do love) so much more appreciative of everything from my little succulents to the towering trees along the road at the center of campus.

I challenge you to get outside, if you’re able. Go to a state or national park (they need the support, too), the beach, or a green space in a city. Maybe you already live in a rural area. Take some time to really focus on the environment around you. And good luck.

Writing, too, is healing for me. Sharing my experiences by putting my jumbled thoughts to paper provides a release that’s hard to describe. Thank you for reading.

Christine and her vision board

Works Cited

Sifferlin, Alexandra. “The Healing Power of Nature.” Time, Time, 14 July 2016, time.com/4405827/the-healing-power-of-nature/.

White, Matthew P, et al. “Two Hours a Week Is Key Dose of Nature for Health and Wellbeing.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 13 June 2019, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190613095227.htm.

:-)