The longest days of the year are here, and opportunities to get out and play abound. In the next few months, local festivals and celebrations, as well as family gatherings and friendly parties, will all provide ample opportunity to take advantage of all the extra daylight. With the potential to attend so many events, it can be hard to reserve some of that time for yourself, and even harder to make time to spend in nature. Spending just 15 minutes of daylight in a green environment has a host of beneficial effects, but taking that time to focus on an introspective activity might just give you the space you need. Whether you’re in an urban park or deep in the woods, writing in nature can deepen your understanding of yourself and your connection to the outside world.
You don’t need to journey far from home to have a meaningful writing experience surrounded by nature. In fact, the simpler your plan, the easier it will be to make it a routine. Any outdoor space will do, whether that’s the courtyard of your apartment building, your backyard, the urban park down the street, or the deep forest park across town. Take whatever time works for you, whether fifteen minutes or a day’s retreat. Still, the more time you spend outside, the more health benefits you’ll reap: being out in nature is linked with lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with the experience of stress. And if you choose to preface your writing time with a walk in the woods, you could be refreshing your short-term or working memory, and taking the edge off your anxiety or depression to boot. Even before you start writing, the restorative time you spend outdoors will help to calm and center you, so you can be your best self for the rest of the summer.
Writing, on its own, is likewise restorative. Expressive writing in particular – the type of writing where you release what you think, how you feel, your heartache and triumphs, all of you onto the page – is associated with lower blood pressure, lower stress levels, and improved mood in general. If you’re not comfortable writing expressively, even keeping a gratitude journal can provide tangible health benefits: taking 15 minutes to jot down what you’re grateful for has been connected to increased optimism and longer and better sleep. While it’s hard to say whether these benefits from writing and those from being outside would increase the benefits of both, can you really have too much of a good thing?
Once you’ve found your outdoor spot and sat down to write, the sparseness of that blank page can be intimidating – but even if expressive writing isn’t for you, it’s easy to start simple. What in your surroundings catches your eye? A bird, a stone, a cloud? Is it the quality of your thoughts, the sound of your own breathing? Or is it the way the sun glints off that leaf? Describe it in as much detail as you can muster. What does that attention-grabbing thing, feeling, or sensation remind you of? A place, an event, a person? Let your mind drift and your pen wander where it will, without judgment and without editing as you go. If you’re not into figuring something out on the fly, find a book of writing prompts you like – maybe a mindfulness journal like Start Where You Are – and choose a topic that inspires you at the moment. If the thought of trying to figure out what to write inspires more anxiety than inner peace, other mindfulness practices, like meditation, can be equally fulfilling ways to ground yourself in the present and enjoy the summer season.
The introspective combination of writing and nature can carve out moments in time from a busy schedule, providing a much-needed respite from the wider world. But maybe introspection isn’t your thing – maybe you need to do more. Maybe you feel your best when on the move, and choose a walking meditation. Maybe you prefer the thrill of excitement you get when doing something more intense, like whitewater rafting. Whatever ways you find to connect with nature, reconnect with yourself, and be in the present moment, take advantage of the summer and its abundant outdoor opportunities while you can. Whether your activities are introspective or physically engaging, solo or surrounded by those you care for, the time you spend outside will be memorable – and these long stretches of sunlight will slip into the crisp, sweet twilight of fall before you know it.