15 Sep 2017
Get out into nature: Let fresh air and raw beauty soothe your pet grief

Get out into nature: Let fresh air and raw beauty soothe your pet grief

The stress of being in an unpleasant environment - like inside an office building or commuting for hours every day - can lead to sadness and general anxiety. This is doubly true when you’re dealing with the loss of a animal companion. Getting some fresh air has the potential to bring you serenity during difficult times. Nature allows peace and clarity to enter your mind. I know for me, going for a nice leisurely, mindful walk along the ocean was incredibly restorative for my mind and body during the worst days after my pet losses. While being in nature won’t completely remove the pain of pets passing away, surrounding yourself with natural beauty is a good way to come to terms with your grief and even celebrate your furry friend’s memory.

How Nature Restores Our Sense of Balance

Spending time outside has a way of restoring our natural wellbeing. Several studies have found that people’s moods are enhanced significantly by being in nature or viewing scenes of the outdoors. A real sense of vitality emerges from being in the great outdoors.

In fact, studies have shown that our environment can have significant effects on our stress levels. What we see, hear, and experience can change our overall mood. More than that, these things also have major impacts on our nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. A more pleasing setting is much more conducive to a healthy mind and body.

These positive effects are especially important when you’re faced with the end of a beloved pet’s life. The respite you receive when you spend time outside is great for soothing an overactive mind. You can shift your perspective and pay attention to more positive things, such as happy memories of the time you and spent together.

During times of grieving, nature has the following positive effects on overall wellbeing:

  • Time for Reflection: Having a low-stress opportunity to remember your pet is a great way to overcome the stresses of grief. Meditation on your dog or cat or ferret's life while outdoors is doubly beneficial for mood.
  • Higher Levels of Oxygen: There’s science behind the idea that getting some fresh air helps you feel better. High levels of oxygen have been linked to serotonin, a key neurotransmitter that affects overall mood, memory, appetite, and other important aspects of your personality.
  • Fresh Perspective: Being surrounded by trees, soil, and flowers reminds you of the circle of life. There’s a natural progression to things, and you can find calm and acceptance if you have gentle reminders like the ones nature provides.

Putting yourself in a natural setting is also good for coping with the emotional pain you feel for the loss of your pet. We’re genetically predisposed to being engrossed by scenes of natural beauty. When we’re taking in all the sights and sounds that nature has to offer, we’re distracted from the emotional discomfort we feel when we grieve.



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Understand How Nature Heals Physically

Exposure to nature, or even viewing depictions of natural beauty, can have all kinds of beneficial impacts on our bodies. It can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. Production of stress hormones also diminishes when you’re focused on natural wonders. Research done in hospital rooms, schools, and busy offices has shown that something as simple as a plant in the room can have a real stress-reducing impact.

Similarly, one study analyzed patients who had undergone gall bladder surgery, half of whom had a view of trees. The other half had only a view of a wall. Those with a view of nature reported less pain and spent less time in the hospital. These results have been echoed in other studies regarding plants in hospital rooms.

What's more, the positive effects of exercise in a natural environment during bereavement can alleviate the most intense feelings like depression. The endorphins your body produces when you walk, hike, or run turn your thoughts in more positive directions.

Combined with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you’ll feel stronger and more optimistic about the future when you get some fresh air. You’ll likely find it easier to celebrate your pet’s life in a healthy way as a result.

Nature Makes Us Feel More Connected, Even in Pet Loss

When you’re in the midst of grieving a departed pet, it’s nice to be reminded that we’re all connected to each other and that we’re all important parts of a larger world. Many studies have found that spending time in nature reinforces both of these ideas.

A University of Illinois study, for instance, found that residents of public housing in Chicago had different outlooks if they had trees and green spaces around their buildings. In fact, urban dwellers surrounded by scenes of nature reported feeling stronger connections with neighbours and being more invested in helping each other. They also faced reduced risk of street crime and less violence between domestic partners.

Whether you live in a crowed city like Chicago or a more sparsely-populated area, spending time surrounded by trees and water and birds can give you a feeling of kinship with the rest of the world. This sense of belonging can be a great help during your time of loss. You’ll be better equipped to deal with mourning if you have a hopeful mind-set. Feeling greater empathy with your fellow humans also can help you process the loss of a faithful animal companion.

Tips for Making the Most of Nature’s Healing Power

The moral? Get outside, even if you don't feel like it. Your body and your mind will thank you. The benfits are perhaps most powerful when you’re going through a personal loss. The end of a beloved pet’s life is a time when you need a special type of comfort that allows for reflection. Natural beauty provides the ideal setting for such comfort to wash over you. Here are some ways to incorporate nature into your pet loss self-care health plan:

  • Try to walk to work or the grocery store rather than taking the bus or driving
  • Take phone calls and meetings outside - both work and personal
  • Take a yoga class in the outdoors (or do your own practice in your backyard)
  • Get yourself some living plants to incorporate into your office or your home
  • Plan off-day excursions that revolve around being in nature, such as hikes, picnics, festivals, and other outdoor-based activities
  • If you cannot actually get outside, add pictures of nature to your smartphone or computer wallpapers or screensavers

Regardless of what stage you're at in your pet loss, give yourself the best possible medicine by spending time outdoors either on your own or with loved ones who understand your pain. And share other ideas you may have for incorporating more of the great outdoors in your healing process.


Images: Andressa Voltolini, Jamie_fenn

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Health Disclaimer: I’m passionate about wellbeing and health but I’m not a medical professional, nor am I a licensed therapist. Any content you read on this site is intended for inspiration and for information only – by not means am I providing medical advice. Please consult your certified professional for personalized recommendations on the mental health or physical health ideas I write about.