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Spiritual Wellness and Nature

By Matt Helm, Ph.D. and Emily Armstrong (Guest Bloggers)

[Note: I (Dave Isbell) saw this blog post around the time I was going to write something similar, so I asked my friend Dr. Matt Helm if I could repurpose it here for you to read. It is aimed at graduate students, but I believe it’s easily adapted to all of us!]

A key to our mission at Graduate Student Life and Wellness is to support our students in embracing the physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, occupational, and social dimensions of wellness. Spiritual wellness is the one dimension that is not as self-explanatory as the others and can often be overlooked and forgotten by people in their busy everyday lives. The University of Illinois describes spiritual wellness as the exploration of the meaning and purpose of human existence with an appreciation for life and natural forces. It is important to give your life meaning because a sense of purpose gives you something to strive towards and feel a part of. The National Wellness Institute explains that finding meaning can center us and give us an understanding of who we are. NWI remarks that, “being spiritual reminds us to be thankful. Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness, positive emotions, the ability to relish good experiences, an improvement in health, the ability to deal with adversity, and the ability to build strong relationships” (NWI). These benefits, as can be seen, fall into most of the other dimensions of wellness as well, showing that to be a truly healthy person you must take the time to focus on each dimension as they tend to overlap and grow together.

Embracing spiritual wellness goes far beyond simply holding a sense of self worth in the “bigger picture”, there are many ways to strengthen and positively impact your health while pursuing a spiritual path. The University of Illinois recommends a number of different things that can enhance spiritual wellness and a simple one to put into practice would be to spend time in nature. When spending time outdoors and reflecting upon a natural landscape a sense of belonging to something greater than your individual self can be felt, which is uniquely understood depending on the personal meaning for each individual. Many wellness resources suggest that one of the best ways to spend time in nature is through hiking. “Humans are innately engaged in nature,” says Marianne Thorsen Gonzalez, PhD so why not use this intrinsic connection with nature to thrive as a person? A spiritual relationship with nature and spending time outdoors, whether it’s through hiking or some other activity, can also help with symptoms of stress, anxiety, sadness, and depression. When merely viewing a natural scene the part of the brain that is associated with balance and happiness is activated, which will relieve stress and put your mind more at ease. I recently vacationed in Arizona and experienced firsthand the positive effect that nature can have on a person’s mental well-being. I was sure to start each morning with a hike through the breathtaking desert landscape, which left me with an overall feeling of peace and contentment that lasted throughout the day. The spiritual connection to nature is one that we can all benefit from so be sure to spend time outdoors to reflect on your personal significance and engage in your spiritual wellness.

Information Sources: National Wellness Institute, the University of Illinois, Oprah Magazine

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Dr. Matt Helm is the Director of the Graduate Life & Wellness program at Michigan State University. The Graduate Life & Wellness program is a collaborative effort between the Graduate School, Olin Health Center, the Counseling Center, Health4U, and Employee Assistance Program to help support graduate students in their pursuit of their advanced degree and a well-balanced life. Emily Armstrong is a current Marketing and Public Relations student at MSU and an Intern for the Graduate Life & Wellness program.

 

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