April Reflections: Cherrelle Shorter, LCSW On Nature As Therapy

April is National Stress Awareness Month, and I can’t help but think about how on-brand that feels collectively and individually. For many reasons, we’ve had a tough past couple of years.

Two years ago, the world as we knew it stopped, and none of us had the skills necessary to prepare us for what was ahead. The workplace shifted, families shifted, relationships were tested — some lost — and many of us were left to navigate this peril with limited resources. Two years later, I find that, like many people, I am still picking up a lot of the pieces of what I previously knew was life.

Last year, I decided to leave my position as Director of Behavioral Health at a community health center to pursue opportunities more aligned with the woman I knew I was becoming. I’d like to say that this transition has greeted me with ease and peace, but that isn’t the reality. The transition into full-time entrepreneurship has come with its own set of unique challenges and stress. With managing work, maintaining personal and professional relationships, showing up wholly for my clients, and navigating all the spaces in between, it suffices to say that my “cup” feels all but full. In my work as a therapist, I focus heavily on rest as an integral part of self-restoration. Not just rest as in sleeping, though this is helpful, too. But more mental rest, emotional rest, and spiritual rest.

It’s often hard to determine what type of rest we need. Sometimes we need it in every form, other times only a certain kind. So, when the overwhelm of life creeps in, and stress makes even daily functioning seem impossible, I find the answer lies in asking yourself a very simple question:

“What do I need?”

While I know this is a simple question, it holds so much potential for insight and personal discovery once you grant yourself the permission to trust that you know what’s best for you. Sometimes you just need a good night’s sleep. Other times, you may need a listening ear, a deep belly laugh, a night out with friends, or even a warm embrace.

Right now, I need a moment of ease. I need quiet, a moment of introspection to restore my depleted vessel. I need the comfort of stillness in nature. 

No emails, no meetings, no phones, no pressure of the toxic “grind” that society has convinced us is necessary to obtain our goals and garner respect in this world. I don’t buy it, but my business won’t run itself. Sigh.

This weekend I will be going on my third Getaway, and as I glance over at my empty suitcase, I’m reflecting on how I can make the best use of this time with myself. In full honesty, I wouldn’t consider myself an outdoorsy woman; however, the mental, physical, and emotional benefits that nature affords one are undeniable.

Nature has been found to be restorative for many good reasons. You know, for all the ways technology propels us forward, it has also been found that our beloved screen time can worsen symptoms of depression and heighten anxiety. One has a great deal to gain from disconnecting from tech. Studies have consistently shown that spending increased time in green spaces and

natural environments helps to improve attention and cognitive functioning, as well as elevate mood and overall well-being.

Think of the mental health benefits associated with owning a houseplant or two. It’s been found that houseplants help reduce stress, improve concentration, spark creativity and boost optimism. So of course this is amplified when fully immersing yourself in nature. While it isn’t a replacement for therapy, it’s undeniably therapeutic. This is the thing that keeps me coming back to Getaway. It provides me a space to safely be with myself and replenish this now empty cup. When I am full and overflowing, I know that everyone around me benefits from the overflow.

If there is anything I’d want you to take away from my experience, it would be understanding the importance of being honest with yourself about your current capabilities and modifying self- expectations. Throughout life, we have moments where we handle our responsibilities with ease, sure. However, in periods of high stress, we may not be able to manage everything on our plate at the same capacity, and that’s OK. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Rather than judge yourself or bully yourself into being productive, be honest about your limitations and find ways to lighten the load. Be mindful of negative self-talk, trade narratives of “perfection” for space to be “good enough,” and prioritize moments of downtime during the day. Engage in activities that nurture the parts of you that feel neglected, play a mindless game, and prioritize intimacy.

As we transition from Stress Awareness Month into National Mental Health Awareness Month, I challenge you to ask yourself, “What do I need?” trust that you know yourself best and explore ways that you can pour back into you.

In wellness,

Cherrelle N. “JUICE” Shorter, LCSW-S, LICSW