Walking in the forest, your feet spring off the soft jumble of leaves, twigs and pillows of verdant moss. The air feels heavy with the earthy smell of soil and a hint of blossom. The bell-tolls of korimako tumble from the sun-speckled canopy, while the twitter of tītīpounamu comes from the understory. Trunks, weathered and wide, adorned with kākahu of lichen, stand around like old friends. You breathe in, and out. 

Taking a moment to immerse yourself in this scene, think about what emotions come up for you. Maybe you feel joy, excitement, or cheerfulness. Perhaps you also feel relaxed and calm. The myriad benefits of spending time in natural environments extend to our mood, levels of stress, our ability to pay attention, our relationships with others, and feelings of connectedness to the natural world. 

Now contrast these emotions with those that often come up when confronted with planetary crises like climate change and the loss of biodiversity. I don’t think any creative waffle is needed to remind us of the distressing feelings, thoughts, and emotions that cumulatively make up eco-distress. Plainly put, being part of the climate movement is exhausting, distressing, and straight-up difficult a lot of the time. 

These emotions are powerful motivators of our behaviours and actions. On the one hand, experiencing these distressing emotions can swiftly send us towards inaction, dread, and social isolation. On the other hand, if we can learn to acknowledge these distressing emotions and use skills to help us cope with them, they can empower and motivate us to take meaningful action. 

Our ability to cope with distressing emotions in an adaptive way is known as our emotional resilience. In A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, Sarah Ray discusses how “the way ahead will require not just the science of climate, but the science of emotions, to help us balance apathy, fear, and despair with efficacy, compassion, and desire.” 

There are countless ways we can build our emotional resilience: through self care, community care, mindfulness, and social connection. For me, emotional resilience, hope, compassion, and vitality come more easily when spending time in the wild native forests of Aotearoa. Ducking into a pocket of bush during my lunch break in Pōneke, it’s easy to take some breaths, be active, and spend some moments noticing the way light falls through the trees and how the roots entangle themselves across the forest floor. 

Western scientific research makes it clear that spending time in natural environments contributes to our mental wellbeing, with links to mood improvements, reductions in stress, and increased attention. From an indigenous point of view, connection to land and the natural environment is critical. Tā Mason Durie, a prominent leader in elevating Māori perspectives of wellbeing and the environment, discusses how Te Taiao underpins holistic wellbeing. In an interview, he emphasises that connection to Te Taiao is about being mindfully aware of the natural environment that surrounds us, whether that’s a sky above us or a river near us, rather than being restricted to wild environments that we don’t have access to. 

In Aotearoa, we are fortunate that in most places we have great access to wild spaces, whether they are coastlines, forests, gardens, or waterways. Here are some ideas for getting out there. 

  1. Mindfulness in natural spaces. This is definitely a buzzword, but the idea is pretty straightforward. It’s about paying attention, on purpose, without judgement. In natural environments, try paying attention to five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can feel, two you can smell, and one you can taste. If you get distracted, don’t stress, no judgment. 
  2. Socialising in natural spaces. Join community activities like community gardens, tree planting days, trail running groups, or have lunch with mates outside.
  3. Practicing reciprocity. Spending time in natural environments, while also contributing to their flourishing – massive! Conservation volunteering, tree planting, gardening are all great ways to give back to places that make you feel good. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is a great book that details this 
  4. Green exercise. Physical activity is good for us, right? Physical activity in natural environments, woah even better. 

In the climate activism space, looking after yourself is essential because we’re in this for the long run. In this long run, we want to be powered by hope, love, and generosity, while acknowledging and sitting with the distressing emotions that will inevitably come up. For environmentally minded people in particular, spending time in natural environments is a wonderful way to help cope with our distressing emotions, while recharging our hope, love and generosity batteries. Enjoy some time outside, you deserve it!

Aroha nui!

I’m Tom Hadley (he/him). I’m a 24-year-old living in Te Rua o te Moko (Fiordland) at the moment, where I’m lucky enough to work in the mauka and awa of Te Rua o te Moko doing conservation work. For most of the year, I’m based in Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington) where I’m studying Clinical Psychology, and carrying out research for my thesis on the wellbeing benefits of spending extended periods of time in wild natural environments. 


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Ray, S. J. (2020). A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet (1st ed.). University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvw1d67m