A year into the pandemic and everyone’s feeling a bit mentally taxed and drained. So what’s a low cost way to improve our mental well-being? By going out and simply experiencing awe in nature.
What is awe?
“Awe is a positive emotion triggered by awareness of something vastly larger than the self and not immediately understandable,” said Dr. Dacher Keltner who led a study to improve emotional well-being in older adults.
The Effects of Awe
Keltner’s study had 52 older adults go out in nature for at least a 15-minute walk each week for eight weeks. One half of the group were taught about awe and how to experience the feeling in their walks. The results showed a greater sense of appreciation of nature in these participants. What’s more, the volunteers were instructed to take pictures during the beginning, middle, and end of their walks. The researchers found that those experiencing awe increasingly focused on the landscape instead of themselves and the smiles on their faces grew. The other half of the participants who weren’t instructed about awe were found to be more inwardly focused.
During the study, the awed participants felt more positive emotions like compassion and gratitude. And it all stemmed from simply asking the participants to practice that feeling of awe each time they went out on their walk.
Other studies discovered similar results. One study followed those from underprivileged areas and military vets with PTSD on one-to-four day whitewater-rafting trips. The results showed better well-being and lower stress when experiencing awe. Another asked undergraduates to track their emotions interacting with nature over a two-week period. And again, the undergraduates reported high levels of short-term satisfaction and longer-term well being.
Experiencing Awe, Especially Now
Said one of the researchers from the first study: “Experiencing awe is such a simple practice – just taking a moment to look out the window or pausing to consider the technological marvels that surround us – and we now show it can have measurable effects on our emotional well-being. A little more joy and a little more connectedness with the world around us is something all of us could use these days.”
Dr. Sonja Stilp is a physician and founder of RISE practicing in Boulder, CO. She loves getting out and experiencing all the AWE nature has to offer as much as she can. Dr. Stilp provides personalized care and global healing for the athlete in all of us. Make an appointment with her to talk about your health and performance today.