2021 was a very eventful year for many of us. The Pandemic continued for another year, the Suez Canal was blocked, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, over 190 nations signed into a new Climate Change Agreement, and so much more happened in the last 365 days we spent on this planet together. Personally, 2021 was the first year that I ever lived alone. Since moving out as a teenager, I always lived with roommates or a significant other; I had never lived alone for longer than six weeks.
I moved to a different state on my own, started a new job, finished graduate school, and day by day had to accept the solitude. For someone who had never been alone, this was harder to do than I expected it to be. I found myself hurtling toward burnout as I raced to fulfill some unspoken expectation of what being “healed” meant. I set up an unsustainable daily routine, worked ten to twelve hours every day, made up new projects for myself to do on the weekends, made plans with old friends and new acquaintances every day after work (virtually and some in person), and then would come back to my little apartment wondering why I still felt exhausted and not yet healed. After all, I was doing everything a “well-adjusted” adult is supposed to be doing, right?
To be fully transparent with you, I was still thinking like this a few weeks ago. Then I came across a new study published in Science journal. Reforestation has been a massive focus for decades now as scientists and conservationists try to fight the effects of deforestation (for agriculture, livestock farming, lumber and pulp) of entire forests on our planet. Non-profits and even some companies have recently been making an effort to plant new trees. But at the current rate of deforestation, establishing new forests can take a long time. The ecosystems that depend on these forests will take even longer to heal. Does this sound familiar? Creating all of those new “healthy habits” all at once in an effort to feel more fulfilled has a similar effect on us.
After analyzing 77 tropical forests, researchers found something astonishing. A previously forested area can return to 80% of its previous growth in 20 years if simply left alone. This includes the state of the soil, biodiversity, plant function, biomass, and species composition. This research shows that leaving previously deforested areas alone and letting them heal without further human interference is a better method of fighting climate change than establishing new forests by ourselves. Nature inherently has the knowledge to heal itself. We’ve been trying to force our own methods of growth and healing, which take longer than just letting the process take its own course.
Letting forests regrow themselves requires patience. This patience is something we can also practice for ourselves. We can give ourselves time, we can allow ourselves to take that nap instead of forcing ourselves to take a jog during our lunch break, we can say no to plans, we can go spend time taking a walk outside rather than signing ourselves up for another networking event. It is okay to take time off, not start yet another project, and just take it slow. Focusing on the present moment and figuring out what will bring us closer to happiness today will get us to a place of healing faster than by piling all of the things we think we should be doing to feel self-confident, feel comfortable being alone, and being “fulfilled” with our lives.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be trying something new, pushing ourselves past our comfort zone, and practicing healthy habits. One of the researchers from the study, Bruno Hérault, explained in a press release that, “[T]here is no silver bullet to [forest] restoration, and a mix of natural and active restoration may be needed.” We are the same. We have to trust ourselves, we know what we need, it’s important that we treat ourselves kindly. But adding those new healthy habits, new hobbies, and pushing ourselves to go to that online networking event (when our inner introvert is screaming in protest) will help us get from 80% healed to new growth.
Also by Iga: What You Must Know About COP26 Summit—A Recap
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Photo: Pema Gyamtsho on Unsplash