Let’s face it, we all get the blues, some of us more than others. In fact, some of us struggle with a disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) where we tend to get depressed in the winter months when we have less sunlight. There are many theories as to why this happens but it seems to be more common these days.

I have been experiencing SAD for as long as I can remember and after a bout this year, I realized something that confirms what I’ve always known about the benefits of nature. This is the first winter in five years that I did not work as a wilderness instructor. The first year that I didn’t spend several days a week outside.

And while we all don’t have the luxury of working in the outdoors, we can find some time to get out into nature and reap some of the marvelous benefits it provides. For me, this winter was proof that if I didn’t make the time to visit nature, I was going to keep feeling blue. But when you’ve got the blues, sometimes it’s hard to get motivated.

There’s an interesting theory in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that may explain why nature is so restorative. After reading it, I realized that I had been practicing (and teaching) the exact thing the theory suggests—that disconnecting ourselves from our everyday concerns (work etc.) and engaging in a human-environment relationship, we reset some kind of primal 

Although the theory has complex elements, the reality is pretty simple: Once you become engaged with the natural world (the key is to become engaged) you somehow feel like part of something bigger. You start to feel your connection to everything around you and that connection  somehow works its way into your psyche and maybe even into your cells.

So how do we do this? Well, the first thing we have to do is make an attempt to connect with nature. I spent years teaching kids how to forget about television and video games for a day at a time. To do this, I had to show them nature’s screen, nature’s show. It began with something as simple as finding a set of animal tracks and then determining what animal left the tracks and which direction they headed. Once they got engaged, they forgot all about video games.

So it’s really quite easy as long as you dedicate your visit in nature to the experience at hand. Leave the headphones at home and listen to the birds, the creek or even just the wind. Wander where you feel compelled to wander. Look everywhere and see what you find. Decide to make it a journey instead of a determined destination. Just let go and see what happens.

I’m not sure how it works and I’m ok with the not-knowing. Nature is mysterious, exciting and sometimes scary. Something about being vulnerable, being curious, and being in an unfamiliar world brings up a childlike memory that somehow heals, restores and makes our lives simpler and more meaningful. It is nothing less than magical to me.