Welcome to our Youth Talk Blog, a section dedicated to youth lived-experiences with mental health and wellbeing, with weekly blog posts from diverse young people’s perspectives. This is a positive, fun and resourceful space, showcasing young people thriving and connecting with healthful activities, resources and support. This post was written by Elle, our Community Education Volunteer, who is a 23-year-old Communications graduate.
I’m sure we all have times in our lives where our relationship with nature feels stagnant or distant.
We live in an era that is not only technology-dominant and mostly urbanized, but also one where the new normal is staying at home during lockdowns amidst a pandemic. In times like these, it is very easy to forget that our roots are better planted in the earth than our carpets. Lockdowns have been especially hard on everyone, being separated from loved ones, ripped from daily routines and many other personalized challenges. Most people really disliked being in lockdown, but personally, I had a strange relationship with it.
My social anxiety reveled in the fact that I was no longer expected to leave the house, in fact, I was now strongly advised not to. So, when the very first lockdown in 2020 was lifted, I remember feeling distraught. I had spent so much time on my own that I had lost the ability to manage my inner dialogue while in the presence of strangers. I resisted the return to “normal” quite adamantly at first, looking for any excuse that allowed me to stay home. But my mother was my biggest support person who helped me change the narrative I was creating around being in open spaces again. Instead of going straight to the mall, she suggested starting with the beach or forest where most of the stimulation would be produced by nature – bird calls, waves crashing, wind rustling through leaves. But more importantly to focus on the feeling of my bare feet on the earth, whether it be sand or soil.
Grounding as an anxiety-management tactic can look very different person to person. Whether it be the 5-4-3-2-1 mindfulness technique or box breathing, focus is placed on the body before the brain. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique helps to shift your attention from your thoughts to your senses and surroundings by naming five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Similarly, box breathing, or resetting your breath, also grounds you by centring your attention on your body. Like four sides on a box, the exercise is done in allotments of fours; breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and ideally, repeat four times. Both techniques are great for grounding during moments of anxiety.
The form of grounding my mother suggested is also known as “Earthing,” which she originally learned through gardening and permaculture. It is based on the theory that by reconnecting with natural electrical fields that the Earth gives off, our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are re-balanced. Therefore, by simply being barefoot on the ground, our energy is naturally re-charged. This can be interpreted somewhat spiritually, but it also holds some biological truth according to emerging research.
It began as a great way for me to bridge between leaving the house and being in public. By being in a natural environment like the beach or the forest, I was able to have some privacy to work through my social anxiety while being far enough out of my comfort zone to make progress. Eventually I found it easier and easier to be in crowded spaces, and my mental health improved to the point where I was confident enough to return to hospitality – a big feat for someone who feels anxious talking to strangers. I still use Earthing as a grounding technique when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and even when I’m not, breathing in the ocean air with sandy feet is always a very peaceful way to end my day and return to my body.
I believe that we sometimes need to be reminded of how important it is to incorporate the outdoors and natural scenery into our daily or weekly routine. When we’re anxious, it is easy to forget how much our bodies benefit from being outside, and in turn, our brains. Beginning or ending the day with a walk along the beach or through a park, wherever is most convenient, can be a great way of easing complicated feelings around social anxiety or recharging your energy, all the while soaking up the health advantages of the environment around you – vitamin D and lowered cortisol levels to name a few. If you’re someone like me who wants quality scenery for that special touch, I recommend catching the sunset.
References and resources:
 “Earthing” and Permaculture: Potent Health Benefits for the “Dirt Farmer” - Rebecca McCarty (2017).
 Integrative and lifestyle medicine strategies should include Earthing (grounding): Review of research evidence and clinical observations – Wendy Menigoz et al. (2020).