For the Love of Nature: A Blog Post by Kim Sedore, RSW

Posted by on September 28, 2022

The end of summer is often bittersweet. We feel the palpable tension between the deep appreciation of the summer experience and the anticipation of all that autumn brings. We try to hold on, cling to, the warmth of this wonderful season, and sometimes experience a sense of panic in realizing that it is coming to an end.

It is helpful to recognize the mixed feelings that come with the seasonal shift – acknowledging and embracing the parts of ourselves that want life to be forever easy, simple, and fun. And yet, accepting that back-to-school is here, the return of structure and schedules. The daylight hours grow shorter and cooler, more time is spent indoors and under roofs. The good news is that time outside can be enjoyed year round. We can benefit from spending time outdoors in natural places, green spaces, and the open air in every season.

As a social worker, I’ve been trained to adopt practices that are “evidence-based”, meaning that research exists to support the notion that they are effective and helpful. I highlight here some of the research promoting the physical, mental, and social health benefits of being in nature. I also share some practical ideas for action!


Shinrin-yoku, translated as “forest bathing”, is a Japanese term that was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982. It means making contact with, and taking in, the atmosphere of the forest (Park et. al., 2010).

It’s been found that spending time in forest environments and doing nature-based activities can aid in stress management and can promote health, family connectedness, psychological and spiritual growth, rehabilitation, and higher immune functioning (Park et. al, 2010; Harper, Rose & Segal, 2019).

The physical benefits include the reduction of stress hormones in the blood, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, and greater parasympathetic nerve activity (Park et. al., 2010; Tsunetsugu, Bum-Jin, & Yoshifumi, 2010; Li, Q., Kobayashi, M., & Kawada, T., 2008). Many people note improved immune function, better sleep, and better appetite after time spent in forests (Kuo et al., 2015; Nesbit, 2015 25).

Mental Health Benefits

Physical activity in nature has been found to support short and long-term psychological benefits, including improvement in self-esteem and mood, and higher meditative and relaxed mental states. These positive outcomes can arise even with short durations of exercise (5 minutes) that are light and continuous (Harper, Rose & Segal, 2019).

It has also been found that people experience less hostility, less depression, and more liveliness following time in forest environments. People who identified as feeling chronically stressed experienced greater beneficial effects (Tsunetsugu et. al., 2010).

The benefits of group forest walking for people with diagnoses of depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders have shown to be significant. These include improvements in concentration, impulse control, as well as enhanced problem solving skills (Iwata et. al., 2016; Kuo et. al, 2015; Nisbet & Lem, 2015).

Research demonstrates that youth greatly benefit from nature. Unstructured time in nature can increase self-esteem and cognitive functioning among youth (Taylor & Kuo, 2009). A Canadian study suggests spending time in nature is a protective factor for mental health among youth. Girls’ prevalence of depression, anxiety, anger, as well as physical symptoms like headache and stomach pain symptoms decreased by 24% compared to their peers following at least 30 minutes in nature. Even the perception of the importance of a connection to nature was found to reduce the prevalence of symptoms (Harper, Rose & Segal, 2019 37.)

Social and Relational Benefits

Time spent in nature can also have positive outcomes for our social and relational wellbeing. Connecting with others is often reassuring, grounding, and inspiring. We know this to be true following our experience during the Covid pandemic: Being “in this together” in fact turns out to be another significant resilience factor… Social interconnectedness can literally provide a lifeline for survival under the most adverse circumstances (Adelman, 2012 380).

It has been found that quiet and uncrowded environments help people pay attention to each other, their environments, and themselves, in peace, calm, and relaxation (Nesbit, 2015). Having a sense of belonging to the places we exist promotes our sense of security in our relationships with the people in those places too.

Our connections and relationships can extend to other facets of the natural world – plants, animals, water systems, and the land formations. These relationships inform our sense of the web of life. Not only does this enrich our sense of relatedness and belonging, it also motivates us to respond to our environment as a member of the ecological community: Increasing one’s ecological awareness, or sense of connection to place or nature, can often lead to increased responsible ecological behaviours. It is known that people tend to protect what they love (Harper, Rose & Segal, 2019 8).

People enjoy escaping from everyday life and connecting with their environment and nature. Being in nature can act as a support or antidote from the isolation that can be experienced when we’re struggling in our mental health.

How to Connect with Nature

  • Join a local community group doing ecological stewardship, hosting guided walks or paddling experiences.
  • Walk barefoot. Enjoy the freedom and be mindful of where you step.
  • Study the clouds and the wind. Notice how these align with the forecast.
  • Bring a field guide for birds, trees, and wildflowers.
  • Identify animal tracks and get to know more about other species.
  • Sit with your eyes closed for a few minutes.
  • Listen, feel, smell, and taste the air.
  • Pay more attention to your breathing, let your rhythm be easy.
  • Look and listen for sights and sounds that are close and far away.
  • Look up, look down. What is the phase of the moon?
  • Walk extra-slow along the forest trail. What do you notice?
  • Bring paper to draw, write, and journal.
  • Dance
  • Sing
  • Wonder what the environment might be like in another season.

Land Acknowledgement

In connecting our feet to the ground and our awareness to place, we can acknowledge the people whose traditional and often unceded territory we live, work, and play upon. On Turtle Island, colonially known as North America, this is an understanding of connecting with the truth of the pre-contact and colonial histories, as well as the current realities experienced by Indigenous people today. When we acknowledge that the process of colonial settlement includes displacement, dispossession, and perpetual forgetting – we come closer to locating ourselves in our environment in an honest way. Being honest – however uncomfortable – is a basis for being more fully present and available to true connection and reciprocal healing.

As an individual benefiting from access to Indigenous land, and dedicated to helping people connect with this land, I acknowledge my responsibility to decolonize my relationship with the land and advocate for true reconciliation for Indigenous peoples. I am dedicated to ongoing learning, and I invite the feedback and wisdom of our Indigenous clients, friends, and community members to help me better understand how to do this. I am committed to making, and contributing to, the necessary changes to realize this.

What is known today as Toronto, T’karonto (Kanienʼkehá꞉ka, Mohawk), is the traditional territory of many Indigenous nations and peoples, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Huron-Wendat peoples. It is home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples who are still negotiating their inherent rights to the land.

Resources to Learn about Indigenous Presence in Toronto

  • Sites of local activity pre-dating European settlement are described in this Now Magazine article by Enzo Dimatteo

  • Indigenous Toronto (2021) is a beautiful and eclectic celebration of Indigenous presence in Toronto, past and current.

  • Native Land Digital and Whose Land are both excellent websites for learning more about the traditional territories of the places and spaces where you live, work, play, and explore.

Safety and Accessibility

We need to consider issues of safety and accessibility when navigating green spaces. The goal is to recognize the challenges and reduce the barriers faced by particular individuals and groups so that we can create environments that are therapeutic, and not harmful or re-traumatizing. For example, racism and other forms of discrimination and harassment can be a threat in isolated and remote environments. True inclusion and accessibility welcomes diversity in culture, race, ethnicity, gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, ability, mobility, financial means, language, and age.

Researching active community groups and outdoor leaders in your area is a great way to connect with others and explore new spaces. Check these out!

Black Outdoors is a blog by Jacqueline L. Scott – a Black woman, academic, and adventurer living in Toronto. She shares her reflections and experiences of her outdoor adventures.

Brown Girl Outdoor World is a group led by Demiesha Dennis in Toronto, promoting access and enjoyment of outdoor natural spaces among BIPOC women.

Melanin Base Camp is a multi-blogger site supporting BIPOC engagement in outdoor adventure activity, based in Washington, DC.

When You Can’t Get Outside

Bring nature into your home:

  • Practice weather forecasting by looking out at the clouds.
  • Care for houseplants.
  • Play with your pets or consider welcoming a pet into the family. Offer to care for others’ pets
  • Choose wooden toys, utensils, tools here and there – collect objects made with raw natural materials
  • Cultivate and enjoy your rock collection
  • Garden
  • Cook with unprocessed foods
  • Explore aroma therapy
  • Wear natural fibers
  • Visit indoor water fountains
  • Natural soundtracks on the stereo can be soothing and/or stimulating
  • Join a community group with an eco/outdoor mandate
  • Plan your next outdoor adventure

Indoors or out, take care of your precious self, the people you love, people in circles beyond you, tread lightly and lovingly on the land, and have fun!

Yours truly and forever boreal,


Links and Resources

Mood Walks is a program in Ontario brought to us by Hike Ontario and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) – therapeutic hikes led by a trained facilitator.

Jason Ramsay-Brown (2015)’s Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests is a book that maps the ravines and forest trails in Toronto. It’s packed with information on the histories of the forests too.

Swim Drink Fish is connected with the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, supplying opportunities to connect with local water and ecological stewardship in community


Adelman, A.J. (2012) “Reviews” Psychoanalysis and Research 62(2). Review of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. By Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Amano, T., Motomi, T. (2016.) “The Role of Alternating Bilateral Stimulation in Establishing Positive Cognition in EMDR Therapy: A Multi-Channel Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study”. PLoS ONE. 11 (10) p. 1-11.

Berger, R. (2010.) “Nature therapy: Thoughts About the Limitations of Practice”. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 50(1) p. 65-76.

Bolduc, D., Gordon-Corbière, M., Tabobonhung, R., Wright-McLeod, B. (Eds.) (2021.) Indigenous Toronto: Stories that Carry this Place. Toronto: Coach House Books.

Dominelli, L. (2012.) Green Social Work: From Environmental Crises to Environmental Justice. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hari, J. (2016.) Chasing the Scream: The Opposite of Addiction is Connection. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Hari, J. (2018.) Lost Connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression – and the unexpected solutions. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Haprer, N., Rose, K. & Segal, D. (2019.) Nature-Based Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide to Working Outdoors with Children, Youth, and Families. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

Iwata,Y., Dhubha´in, A. N., Brophy, J. Roddy, D., Burke, C., & Murphy, B. (2016.) “Benefits of Group Walking in Forests for People with Significant Mental Ill-Health.” Ecopsychology. 8(1) p16-26.

Kuo, M. (2015.) “How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising Mechanisms and a Possible Central Pathway”. Frontiers in Psychology. 6. p.1-8

Li, Q., Kobayashi, M. & Kawada, T. (2008.) “Relationships Between Percentage of Forest Coverage and Standardized Mortality Ratios (SMR) of Cancers in all Prefectures in Japan.” The Open Public Health Journal. 1. p. 1-7

Nisbet, E. & Lem, M. (2015.) “Prescribing a dose of nature: Modern medicine is rediscovering the simple healing power of being outdoors”. Alternatives Journal 41(2).

Park, B.J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., Miyazaki, Y.. (2010.) “The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan.” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 15. P.18-26

Raymond, C.M., Brown, G., Weber, D. (2010). “The measurement of place attachment: Personal, community, and environmental connections.” Journal of Environmental Psychology. 30, P. 422-434

Tsunetsugu, Y., Bum-Jin, P., & Yoshifumi, M. (2010.) “Trends in research related to ‘‘Shinrin-yoku’’ (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan.” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 15: p. 27-37.

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