By Ryan Reese

Ryan Reese is an assistant professor of Counseling at Oregon State University-Cascades. He holds licenses as a licensed professional counselor, licensed school counselor, national certified counselor, and approved clinical supervisor. His research agenda focuses on connection with non-human nature and how intentional and contextual affiliations might be integrated effectively into clinical and educational settings.

Nature abounds in Central Oregon. Mountains to the west, desert to the east, there’s no shortage of outdoor recreational opportunities to keep one’s time occupied.

But nature isn’t just fun. It’s also good for your health.

Interestingly, nature contact has been shown to positively impact nearly every aspect of wellness. The most obvious benefit includes greater cardiovascular health through physical activity, but did you know that research overwhelmingly suggests that nature contact can improve attention, reduce physiological stress, improve emotional health, enhance spirituality and better your relationships with others? Learning a new nature activity can additionally improve one’s own feelings of self-effectiveness, and caring for nature has been shown to boost positive thinking.

But there may be a trick to accessing some of these natural benefits. You might actually need to slow down and pay attention to your surroundings. Slowing down may be hard for many of us outdoor enthusiasts, but it may be worth your while.

Here are four tips to make the most out of your time in nature.

1 Be mindful.

A powerful foundation to bolstering our nature experience includes having a present focus, in which we allow ourselves to be fully immersed in a setting without our mind wandering to all of the “to do’s” in our lives. As a way to start, access a nearby trail; by the end of it, try to have noticed three different things you didn’t notice before. If you find your mind wandering, that’s OK. Just simply bring your attention back to the present moment. The more we can train our minds to just “be,” the more capable we are of appreciating what’s around us.

2 Balance goal-directed outdoor activity with nature appreciation.

One of the hardest things to do outdoors can be balancing a goal-directed activity with slowing down enough to notice the beauty of nature. Sometimes people can get so focused on the end goal that they overlook the actual process of getting there.

A good example of this might include fly-fishing one of our pristine high lakes. A person can become so fixated on catching a fish that the only thing that matters is catching. In the process, the surroundings are spoiled and so is the overall experience. Before, during and after your trip, remind yourself that nature activity is about the overall experience. This may be harder for some than others, but the more you slow down to remind yourself to balance the experience, the more you’ll enjoy it.

3 Learn a new nature activity.

In my clinical work, I find that people often stick with what’s familiar to avoid getting out of their comfort zones. Sound familiar? If so, learning a new nature activity might help you overcome old fears and uncover strengths that can be applied to other areas of your life. We have a ton of outdoor companies that offer rental equipment or guided opportunities. Learn something new this summer and gain more confidence in yourself!

4 Expand your view of nature.

If you are someone who has a specific way of defining nature as being something untouched by humans, consider expanding your definition of nature to include nearby and even indoor nature. Maximize your view of nature at work, even if it only includes plants or a tree. Don’t have a window? Put up a beautiful nature photo or have nature sounds streaming in the background. If you work in a space that allows it, include nature scents around your office. The research is pretty clear: indoor nature, views of nature and even technological nature can positively impact our wellness.

Be intentional about the time you spend accessing nature. Slow down to notice the beauty around you and try to balance your nature activity with overall appreciation of the experience. Take a risk and learn something new. And don’t forget to notice the nature that’s right outside your door. Doing these things might not just enhance your enjoyment of nature — but your overall wellness, too. •