Research suggests HSPs have a stronger connection to nature — and it has a powerful effect on our minds.
At times, for those who have a sensitive soul, it feels nearly impossible to find peace. The world was not designed with us in mind: There’s hectic productivity culture that tells us our worth is in how busy we are, blaring noises, garish lights, and a barrage of smells that overpower our senses (my blood pressure rose just writing that!). As highly sensitive people (HSPs), all this sensory input is like an overstimulation pressure cooker — one where the pressure keeps building.
This pressure cooker of doom can have disastrous consequences, including shorter-term effects, like headaches and stress, and long-lasting effects, such as depression and burnout. It’s nasty, and I imagine that you can (unfortunately) relate.
So, what’s an HSP to do when their internal pressure cooker is about to explode? One option — backed by science — is to escape into nature.
A Connection to Nature Is in HSPs’ Nature
For most of my life, I had been disconnected from nature, yet my HSP intuition kept endeavoring to pull me closer. It wasn’t until about a year ago, when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, that I finally was able to really connect to nature.
It was on my first hike up here that I fully experienced the profound impacts of nature. As I meandered along the trail, I took everything in: the calming sounds of birdsong, leaves rustling in the wind, and water rushing in the creek. Then there were the beautiful visions of tall trees, green meadows, abundant wildflowers, and the mountain’s reflection in the lake. Oh, and let’s not forget about the fresh smell of the forest. It was one of those rare moments where I actually felt at peace. I felt, well, home.
Given my highly sensitive nature, this makes a lot of sense. In fact, when psychologist Elaine Aron and her research team created the HSP scale — a scientific measure sensitivity — they found that a strong connection to nature was a common trait among those interviewed. In fact, our sensory processing sensitivity aligns perfectly with nature. Indeed, HSPs have a deep connection to, and feel at home in, nature — because it is part of our nature.
But, for HSPs, nature isn’t just an affinity. It actually has a profound effect on our minds, and can serve as an “antidoe” for overstimulation. Here’s why.
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Why Nature Is the Perfect Antidote for Overstimulation
1. It engages your senses in the best way possible.
While our senses are still engaged when out in nature, it is in a very different way than other aspects of life. Gone is the overwhelming stimulation that typically floods our senses, replaced instead with an ideal balance of calmness to keep us grounded, while captivating enough to keep us interested.
Research backs this up: Nature has been found to provide positive experiences for each of our five senses in various ways. For example, viewing nature can help reduce stress — and even decrease the amount of time one stays in the hospital. Furthermore, nature sounds regulate our sympathetic nervous system (i.e., our fight, flight, or freeze response) and reduce stress. And smells associated with nature — such as flowers — promote happiness, calmness, and alertness. This is especially important for HSPs, given our sensory processing sensitivity. Being exposed to nature engages our sensory processes in a positive way, helping to counteract overwhelm and create beneficial experiences.
2. It improves your mental health by reducing stress and boosting positive emotions.
As a psychotherapist, I believe this one to be particularly vital! Being in nature has long been associated with beneficial mental health, and for good reason. Studies have shown that spending time in nature helps decrease anxiety, rumination, and difficult emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, etc.), while boosting positive emotions, and even improving short-term memory!
Essentially, nature can provide a healthy escape from our problems, helping us get out of our heads, stop overthinking, and feel happier. This is crucial for HSPs, as we are deep feelers who are more likely to experience intense emotions — whether they are difficult or positive ones.
Further, being in nature can also increase self-esteem. And for HSPs, who are typically misunderstood by society and constantly told that we’re “too sensitive” — and that our sensitivity is a liability instead of our strength — it is critical to find such spaces that contribute to self-acceptance.
3. It provides the perfect opportunity for HSPs to connect to themselves.
Alone time is a necessity for HSPs, including those who identify as extroverts. After all, being in social situations is inherently stimulating, and the more people there are, the more likely it is to be overstimulating. Read: HSPs need time by ourselves in order to function properly! And nature provides the ideal opportunity to do just that.
In my personal experience, I have found nothing more peaceful than being alone in nature. This allows me to go inward, engage in introspection, and connect to myself without having to worry about the distractions that typically appear in my life. This also allows me to better take in my surroundings, reflecting on the beauty and majesty that is nature, leaving me with a profound sense of awe (more on that later!).
Research has also found that nature promotes mindfulness, or nonjudgmental present awareness. After all, it is easier to be in the present moment when there are ample positive sensory experiences to take in. This is essential for HSPs, as mindfulness reduces anxiety for those with sensory processing sensitivity.
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4. It invites you back into your body.
The importance of embodiment — and treating our bodies with the respect they deserve — cannot be understated, especially given how the ever-rampant diet culture endeavors to disconnect us from our homes. This can be exceptionally detrimental to HSPs, given how we feel everything more deeply, including our physicality.
Yet there is something about nature that invites us to be in our bodies and listen to our bodies’ needs. When we feel the sunshine gently warm our skin, a cool breeze caress our body, and the earth beneath our feet, we can more easily connect to our bodies, thereby becoming embodied.
Further, being in nature also brings us to a more internally natural state, which then makes it easier to follow our bodily intuition. Perhaps your body wants to walk around to explore all that the natural surroundings have to offer. Or perhaps your body wants to cool off by swimming in the lake. Or perhaps your body wants to be still and rest while lying on the grass.
However you choose to take care of your body, being in nature provides endless opportunities to do so. And both movement and stillness help us — our parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) is activated, counteracting overwhelm and overstimulation.
5. It provides a sense of awe — and HSPs love taking in all the little details.
HSPs tend to be deeply moved by beauty. In Dr. Aron’s HSP test, there are questions pertaining to this concept. Indeed, research shows that HSPs are more responsive (than our less sensitive counterparts) to stimuli that elicit positive emotions. This means that, as HSPs, when we encounter anything that moves us, we are able to feel a more deep and profound sense of awe.
Similarly, studies demonstrate that HSPs show more brain activity in areas associated with visual stimuli. In other words, that what we see has a greater impact on us — whether positively or negatively. And, given how beautiful nature is, HSPs are even more likely to feel the positive emotional benefits associated with being in nature. After all, nature holds claim to some of the most beautiful sites there are, including grand waterfalls, lush forests, breathtaking oceans, and epic mountains.
On a more personal note, when I am able to witness such natural beauty, I feel overcome with awe and gratitude on a level that not much else can compare to. Such moments make me thankful that I am an HSP, as I am able to feel the majesty of my surroundings, and, consequently, connect to nature more deeply.
6. It allows for spiritual experiences.
I grew up seeped in an environment of damaging religious beliefs. And while it was undoubtedly beneficial for me to leave this toxic theology behind, this also meant that my need for spirituality would be left empty.
It wasn’t until I started spending time in nature that I was able to fulfill this spiritual need: Connecting to nature also allowed me to connect to spirituality. Indeed, because being in nature means experiencing something bigger than ourselves, this is an inherently spiritual experience — and one that anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof, has the potential to resonate with.
When nature is considered a source of spirituality, researchers call this ecospirituality. And studies indicate that experiencing a sense of spirituality while in nature enhances other benefits associated with nature. Given that HSPs may be more likely to have spiritual experiences than non-HSPs, what better a place to find that than nature?
How to Connect to Nature
If you’d like to connect to nature more, here are some ideas to do so.
- Find out what type of nature resonates with you. In order to get the most out of your experience in nature, it’s good to know what type of nature your highly sensitive soul connects with the most. Do you feel most pulled toward the forest, beach, desert, mountains, or somewhere else?
- Determine what your favorite nature-based activity is. There are so many wonderful ways to spend time in nature! Perhaps you enjoy water-based sports, like swimming, kayaking, or paddleboarding. Perhaps you like scavenging for wild berries or mushrooms. Or perhaps you like a good, long hike (my personal favorite!).
- Go to your local park. When you can’t get into the depths of nature, make like Leslie Knope and head to your local park. Being in a green space with grass and trees, plus exposure to sunshine, still has many of the benefits nature has to offer. Plus, this is a great place to bring a book, your favorite hot beverage, and a blanket to lie out and relax.
- Plan your next vacation somewhere natural. Why not incorporate nature into your next trip? From relaxing on tropical beaches to exploring our National Parks, there are so many wonderful sites to see.
- Bring nature indoors. When all else fails, bring nature to you. If you have a green thumb, caring for plants is a lovely way to connect to nature in your own home. There are countless YouTube videos with hours of nature scenes, which is incredibly relaxing to have on in the background. Or, if you want to watch something more involved, how about a nature documentary? I highly recommend My Octopus Teacher! You can also put up nature prints in your home or on your desk.
And while it can be difficult for my sensitive soul to find peace, I know that whenever I escape out into nature, I will find the peace I’m longing for.
Fellow HSPs, what are your favorite places in nature? Comment down below!
You might like:
- ‘Forest Bathing’ Is a Thing, and It Can Heal Highly Sensitive People
- 6 Ways to Manage Big Emotions as a Highly Sensitive Person
- These 8 Things Bring Peace to Highly Sensitive People
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