When I sit on a pillow on my bedroom floor to meditate, the first thing I notice isn’t my breath, or a sense of peace, or my inner voice — it's the sound of cars zooming past my window.
Normally I can tune out the noises of the city. I have to. I live in the middle of an urban area, so at all moments of the day, I can close my eyes and listen to cars honking, brakes squealing, and airplanes flying overhead.
No matter how long I’ve called cities my home, the urban din still induces anxiety in me. It’s a claustrophobic reminder that I’m surrounded on all sides by concrete, cars, and buildings.
Sometimes, I need an escape.
Lately, I’ve been finding that escape in small pockets of nature: the veins of green space that run through my city, the elements of the natural world that persist amid the concrete, and the sights and sounds of living things that are often drowned out by city life.
Learning how to connect to nature while in a dense urban area has worked wonders on my mental health, and it probably could help your head, too: There’s tons of research on how nature is medicine for the soul.
Here are a few of my strategies for connecting to the natural world when you live in a city.
Images via iStock.
1. Take advantage of green spaces inside the city.
Your city probably has more public parks than you realize. The next time you have a free Saturday afternoon, check out your city’s Parks and Recreation website instead of binge-watching the third season of "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix (no shame, I do it too). If you really want to put some distance between yourself and urban life, check out a nature preserve or find a trail that leads away from busy roads. If you’re feeling more social, see if your city’s Parks department has volunteer days, so you can explore a green space while meeting friends.
2. Think smaller.
Sometimes, you can’t disappear into a peaceful island inside the city, but you can still find some peace in the outdoors wherever you go.
A 2017 study from the University of British Columbia looked at the effects of connecting with nature on a smaller scale: noticing a flower, watering a houseplant, watching the sunset. Researchers found that even these seemingly minor encounters made people feel happier and more connected.
So the next time you’re feeling stressed or upset, take a walk to visit your favorite tree. It may seem silly at first, but it works.
Image via iStock.
3. Get out of town.
I know, I know — this isn’t always an option, especially if your transportation options are limited. But if you can rent a car or take a bus out to some nearby campgrounds or a state or national park, you should do it.
Spending time immersed in nature can literally change the way your brain functions. If you can find a spot without cell service, even better.
4. Spend more time noticing.
When you walk to the subway station, how many types of trees do you pass? The birds you hear outside your window — are they all the same species singing the same song, or is there variation?
You may not always have the time to physically escape the city to find nature, but you can take a few moments every day to let nature find you. No matter where you are, you can sit and listen and watch. You don’t have to be an expert birdwatcher or a trained biologist to engage in this exercise. But if you lean into your curious side, you will find yourself wanting to know more about the family of doves who live on your block, or how to distinguish between a sycamore tree and a maple. The more you discover about your non-human neighbors, the more connected you will feel to them. And that’s a relationship worth nurturing.
So get out there and find your peace in some nature! Sit quietly, observe, and listen to what the outdoors has to say.