I have an unquiet mind. I’ve had it since childhood. I still remember vividly the feeling I had while sitting in the car before walking into my elementary school many mornings. My teeth were clenched, I felt fear running through my body. I felt resistant to go inside.
No one could relate to the experience I was having nor could I explain what was happening. While I was quiet on the outside, there was an avalanche of thoughts in my mind, combined with an overflow of emotions that traveled fast, that made me feel scared and overwhelmed at once.
Many years have passed since then. My mind has always been like that. However, I have a lot more tools now. I‘ve learned to turn it around.
When I look back, I understand that being in nature is one of the things that has always made me feel better inside.
In those days back in childhood, I remember when my mom started taking my brother and me to the park in Mexico City early in the morning. She would make a warm breakfast that she would wrap up in aluminum foil so we could eat it after a long brisk walk surrounded by trees. Then she would drop us at school. Those unusual mornings were great. The fear was no longer there or perhaps I felt stronger to cope with the day ahead.
Now it all makes sense. I’ve learned that every morning counts. That there are steps that I can proactively take that help me move the fear away and to collect positive emotions instead.
We now know that there is research that supports the benefits of being in nature, that it allows us to feel less stressed, to improve mood, and to feel better.
Take nature walks in your city to manage stress
While living in three cities throughout my life (Mexico City, New York City and now Paris) and without thinking about it, I have always found creative ways to connect to nature. I find in nature a sense of ease and belonging that it is hard to describe. This was particularly true during the pandemic.
An interesting article explains how people who were in nature during the pandemic were better able to manage stress. It was exactly the summer of 2020 when we were socially distancing that being in the park every day became one of my regular morning habits. A daily anchor when emotions were high. I found one particular tree, right in front of the Eiffel Tower, that became a regular stop during my morning walks.
That summer, like many people, I started paying even more attention to nature in the city. Paris was very quiet so the sounds of birds were very clear and easy to access. I started recording bird sounds at every opportunity. I found out later that there is interesting research that shows that the sounds of nature can help people’s mental health. This also makes sense.
In a time when it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the news, where our attention is being compromised every second with a notification, an advertisement or other distractions, it is easy to focus on what is not going well. The brain is hard-wired to focus on the negative but we can learn how to rewire our mind and make lasting changes.
Connecting with others during nature pauses
My mindful nature pauses in Paris during 2020 led to the creation of my “Postcards From Paris” Podcast, a collection of uplifting moments in Paris shared in less than 2-minutes with an invitation to the listener to see, observe, catch and appreciate one moment of connection to nature in their own life.
During the second anniversary of “Postcards from Paris,” in October 2022, I launched the most interesting collective well-being experiment I’ve ever done. I invited the listeners of the podcast to participate in a 1–Minute Tree Experiment. The idea was simple: to spend one minute observing a tree that caught their attention.
I asked the question: Do you have a favorite tree?
I also requested, if they were willing, to send one photo to share with our community. This created a collective feeling of being on a treasure hunt for one month—an opportunity to connect to trees with a sense of appreciation and awareness, to witness the change and transformation that is happening at least in some parts of the world. I’ve had multiple conversations about a particular tree and the sense of connection to others who appreciate trees as well. These moments made my October a very special month despite the many challenges that we’re globally experiencing.
Here’s a sample of the beautiful photos I’ve received:
How to appreciate a tree to feel better
Now it’s your turn! Would you like to participate in this 1-minute tree experiment to see how it feels? The idea is simple and we invite you to try it.
1-Minute Tree Experiment exercise:
- Notice your posture, your breathing and how you move
- Find one tree in your neighborhood that catches your attention
- Invest one minute observing the tree in front of you from the tip of the branches to the bottom of the trunk
- Observe it carefully
- What makes this tree special?
- Share the moment with a friend
- Ask your friend about their favorite tree
- Repeat for 30 days
- Notice how you feel before and after this exercise