It seems that stress is a daily part of life for folks living here in New Jersey, whether it’s concern over the economy, our health, world affairs or just contemplating what might happen tomorrow. It’s to the point that feeling overwhelmed and under stress has become almost the norm for us.
Our kids are feeling it too. Peer pressure, concern over school and worry about the future has our children over anxious and feeling overrun. But there may be a simple answer or even a cure for what ails our over frazzled lifestyle. It doesn’t come in a bottle with multiple side effects or in a new self-help book that you can buy on late night TV. Rather, the answer will cost nothing but a little time and it’s waiting just outside your door. It’s called nature.
For many reasons families have become disconnected from nature. Urban sprawl has caused the decline of local woodlands, ponds and meadows that we were lucky enough to have while growing up but have been lost to our kids. Distractions like reality TV and virtual reality technology have now taken up more of our time and have come to replace the only true reality show, which is nature.
And yet when we take the time to seek out nature and have nothing more than a simple walk in the woods with our family the stresses of the day seem to fade. When we can take the time to sit by a stream or contemplate a field of tall grass and wildflowers we can bond to our loved ones more than ever before. The prescription for getting closer to our children and each other may lay in fields and forests just up the road.
Marie Longo, Education Chairperson for the Bergen County Audubon Society, says there is a need for families to take a nature walk. “We feel children and their families should enjoy an unstructured, informal nature walk and just have fun exploring nature with no expectations or demands placed upon them,” Marie says.
“It’s so important for families to enjoy the outdoors together. Most families today are so busy with work, school and other activities. Nature provides a stress reducing release from the demands of our everyday lives. It is a great way to spend quality time together. You never know what you’ll discover or uncover together. These experiences are what family memories are made of, to be with your child when he or she finds their first butterfly or sees their first Robin is unforgettable.”
Marie went on to say how glad families are to just get outside together. “Families are so happy to be out in the fresh air and sunshine. Overall they learn that they can come out and enjoy some quality family time in a beautiful setting like the Meadowlands and just have fun without too many rules or restrictions and discover some pretty wonderful things in nature and about themselves”
My good friend Elise Cole, who also happens to be a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist, is always quick to remind me how important it is for families to connect with nature “Families need to put their hands in dirt and walk in grass or on uneven terrain to connect more with the natural world,” Elisa says.
“Encouraging empathy toward birds and other creatures in nature nurtures children’s souls and benefits society as a whole. Changing our thinking and understanding and accepting the emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits of observing and being a part of nature and wildlife is essential to living a meaningful life.
“Connecting with each other regularly, outside of the mall, in nature, is to experience joy and wonderment together, cementing the family bonds that keep us all healthy and happy.”
Although many of the forests and fields we once knew growing up have dwindled over time we are still blessed here in New Jersey to have a wonderful place like our Meadowlands that is so close to home. A visit to a place like DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, Mill Creek Marsh in Secaucus or Losen Slote Creek Park in Little Ferry can take you to a magical paradise of Mother Nature’s wonders that thrive in the Meadowlands. These are the places where all of us can experience the soothing, healing and renewal of the soul that only being out in the natural world can give us.
John Burroughs, noted American naturalist once said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” Sound advice even today.