Go Touch Grass: The Benefits of Being Outside
Go Touch Grass
Volunteering for your mental health
Blog by Brett Pickett, CRCL’s Outreach coordinator
August 4, 2023
The insult “touch grass” is the rare phrase that has the potential to reveal so much of our world when examined more closely. It’s often thrown at people whose comments reveal that they spend far too much time on the internet and have lost touch with something more real and tangible. It’s similar to the older phrase “get a clue” or “Earth to [your name here].” But what’s interesting about this phrase is what its call to action can reveal for us if we follow its path. Going out in nature can provide benefits to both individuals and the outdoors. And examining the phrase “touch grass” with a more critical eye can reveal longstanding injustices.
What happens when we “touch grass”? Many studies have found numerous health benefits both for our minds and our bodies when we make it a point to engage meaningfully with nature. These include reducing stress and triggering the relaxation response, which can help us not only feel better mentally, but even heal faster from physical ailments. They also include improvements to our brain’s executive functioning, helping us process our emotions, work with others and solve problems.
Ironically our experience of the natural world in Louisiana often causes stress and difficult emotions, especially during hurricane season. Regular threats of flooding and the arrival of climate change of course compound these problems in our communities. For example, many people experience what’s called climate anxiety and feel a lack of agency in the face of big environmental issues. Despite this, the solution is not to remove ourselves from nature. Instead, developing a relationship with the outdoors and our communities can help us through these difficult times. Volunteering for environmental causes has been shown to help reduce anxiety around environmental issues and shown illustrates the importance of building relationships and a sense of agency in your community.
“Touching grass” isn’t always as easy as it seems, though. If we look more closely, we can see that for some people, it isn’t always an option. Many marginalized communities have been alienated from their connection to nature stemming from racist housing policies, or the nature around them has been systematically polluted. For people in these situations, embracing the outdoors is a difficult and sometimes dangerous activity. Working to uproot these injustices is crucial to fight these environmental burdens as they mark the foundation upon which many of our environmental issues rest. Plus, this way the benefits of our natural world can be more easily enjoyed by everyone.
Despite being a simple phrase hurled at strangers on Twitter or TikTok, “touch grass” can reveal the inner workings of the benefits and burdens our environment brings us. Given the power being outside has, finding any ways, big or small, to enjoy the outdoors is important for us. However, if you are like many others who feel anxious because of climate change or hurricane season, volunteering outside and for the environment with others might be just the thing you need. At CRCL, we have many opportunities year-round to do just that. You can find them here on our website. If you want to learn more about environmental justice issues in Louisiana and even volunteer to help, you can check out local orgs such as Bucket Brigade, Soul NOLA and Healthy Gulf.
*Special thanks to Jana King for writing assistance and creating the faked twitter interaction graphic included above.