Melissa Barkell stared at her husband in stunned disbelief. This can’t be happening, she thought. But he simply looked back at her, stone-faced. “I want a divorce,” he repeated, as Melissa’s heart broke into a million pieces. Their daughter was about to graduate from college, and Melissa had been looking forward to spending more time with her husband and having more funds to do new things together. But in the blink of an eye, her future was suddenly bleak, and she soon spiraled into a dark depression.
Though the Montana mom tried to mask her sadness behind a forced smile, family and friends saw past it. Two months after her marriage ended, tired of watching her beat herself up, a friend sat Melissa down. “You need to stop focusing on the life you aren’t going to have and start thinking about what gives you joy,” her friend told her gently. “You need to build a new life.”
What makes me happy? Melissa wondered. I have no clue! She’d spent so much time trying to please others that she’d lost sight of her own desires, hopes and dreams.
Then one afternoon, she set out on a walk along a local nature trail to think. As she took in the sounds and smells of nature all around her, Melissa’s worried thoughts quieted, and she felt a peace she had never experienced before. Amazed, she marveled, Maybe I’ve found my happy place.
Melissa started going on hour-long nature walks three or four days a week. She’d make a conscious effort to focus on her surroundings, taking in the sound of the wind, the rustling of leaves in the trees, birds chirping, water bubbling in the river.
Along the way, she’d find a place to sit peacefully, closing her eyes and concentrating on her breathing. When her mind quieted, she would give herself pep talks. You are okay, she’d tell herself. Everything will be okay. You have a bright future.
As weeks went by, Melissa began to truly believe her silent affirmations, and her depression began to lift. She also felt physically better. Melissa had always struggled with her weight, but as her outlook brightened, she became determined to eat healthier. After researching weight-loss programs, she tried Isagenix, a meal replacement and supplement plan, and soon, the extra pounds began melting off. With her nature walks to lift her spirits and her new eating plan, she lost 65 pounds in six months— and has kept it off for over two years.
Today, Melissa, 47, still looks forward to her healing outdoor walks a few days a week—no matter the weather. “Getting in tune with nature has helped me really connect with my inner self,” she says. “It also showed me that little things, like gratitude and focusing on being in the moment, can completely change my mental and physical health for the better. I have never felt more alive!”
Get the Benefits of Nature Even if You Can’t Get Outside!
• It eases stress. Gazing at beautiful nature scenes on a computer when we’re feeling stressed turns off our “fight or flight” response to boost calm by 280 percent, say Dutch researchers.
• It revs energy. Studies show bringing nature indoors with houseplants can raise energy levels by 30 percent. Tip: Pick gardenia, begonia or mint, which also stimulate your brain with their scent.
• It boosts mood. Scientists found that when people listen to nature sounds on an app or video for three minutes, they score 157 percent higher on mood tests than those who didn’t hear the sounds!
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.