Nature, burnout, activism: How nature can support us as we fight for action on the climate emergency
I wrote this for the June 2021 edition of Greenpeace activist newsletter Lock-on.
Caring about nature can be a double edged sword. Developing an intimate relationship with nature helps inspire an urge protect it. The flip side of this is that connection deepens empathy, which can arouse sometimes devastating emotions and impact our mental health (especially at this time of ecological crises).
Thankfully, I've found that nature-based mindfulness practices have resourced me mentally and emotionally, helped me move through grief, and build capacity for future climate activism. Many people have found solace in nature recently and what I offer is inspiration to consciously deepen this budding relationship. Getting outdoors is the quickest, easiest and cheapest way I'm aware of to rebalance ourselves emotionally and physically. There's a powerful, biological reason for this. Our bodies haven't kept pace with our technological/cultural evolution. We are physiologically little-changed from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who evolved to exist in nature. So, many of our internal systems rely on natural stimuli to function optimally, for example;
Natural daylight rhythms regulate our circadian rhythm (this means better sleep!).
Long exhales immediately soothe our nervous system. What's the first thing you do when you get outdoors? Sigh or breathe deep? Simple breathwork whilst walking also works in city streets or around the house. Our bodies are designed to move, and designes to be in natural surroundings.
Immersing ourselves in nature lowers cortisol, decreasing stress, and anxiety. Nature-connection techniques enhance presence in the moment, which is greatly assisted by abundant natural stimuli. This interrupts our stress-response cycle, bringing us into our 'quiet mind'. From this still point, we can tune-in to our internal landscape, capacity, emotions, needs, and whether these can be addressed via self-care or other support.
I welcome you to try a simple daily practice - a 'sitspot': Go into nature and simply be present, even if it's only for 5 minutes or out of a window. Inhale for 3 steps, pause the breath for 4 steps, exhale for 6. Feeling your weight and any tension sinking out through your feet, into the supportive earth beneath. Open your senses, noticing what you see, hear, touch, smell. Choose somewhere close to home so you keep it up regularly. Walking/moving sitspot's work too! You don't need access to wilderness, it's about the quality of your attention and regularity of practice.
Finally, I find feeling held within the wider web of life super-resourcing as an activist, especially when overwhelmed by the enormity of campaigns/issues. Through a sense of interconnectedness I feel able to tap into an emotional strength that's bigger than any individual. Trees have their ''wood-wide'web'' through fungal networks, and we have our own interconnected webs, both as humans within our international Greenpeace community, but also through our interdependence with all life on earth.