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NATURE AND MENTAL HEALTH

Just a walk in the woods or a stroll by the beach on a sunny morning can awaken feelings of happiness and peace,

 and Environmental Psychology has gone a long way proving this fact (Bell, Fisher, Baum, Greene, 1996).Our affinity toward nature is genetic and deep-rooted in evolution. For example, have you ever wondered why most people prefer to book accommodations that have a great view from the balcony or the terrace? Why patients who get a natural view from their hospital bed recover sooner than others? Or why does it happen that when stress takes a toll on our mind, we crave for time to figure out things amidst nature?Frank Lloyd Wright had said, “Study Nature, love Nature, stay close to Nature. It will never fail you.” This article investigates the human-nature relationship in detail. Why we feel so empowered when we are close to Nature? What happens to us when the soft breeze or the warm sun touch us? With research-backed evidence and useful environment-support hacks, this piece explores and acknowledges the sheer boon of the ‘Nature Contact’.Research reveals that environments can increase or reduce our stress, which in turn impacts our bodies. What you are seeing, hearing, experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working.The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel anxious, or sad, or helpless. This in turn elevates your blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension and suppresses your immune system. A pleasing environment reverses that.And regardless of age or culture, humans find nature pleasing. In one study cited in the book Healing Gardens, researchers found that more than two-thirds of people choose a natural setting to retreat to when stressed.Nature heals Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

Nature soothes

In addition, nature helps us cope with pain. Because we are genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other nature elements engrossing, we are absorbed by nature scenes and distracted from our pain and discomfort.

This is nicely demonstrated in a now classic study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery; half had a view of trees and half had a view of a wall. According to the physician who conducted the study, Robert Urich, the patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in a hospital. More recent studies have shown similar results with scenes from nature and plants in hospital rooms.

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Nature restores

One of the most intriguing areas of current research is the impact of nature on general wellbeing. In one study in Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced. Other studies by Ulrich, Kim, and Cervinka show that time in nature or scenes of nature are associated with a positive mood, and psychological wellbeing, meaningfulness, and vitality.

Furthermore, time in nature or viewing nature scenes increases our ability to pay attention. Because humans find nature inherently interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing out in nature. This also provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks.

Nature connects

According to a series of field studies conducted by Kuo and Coley at the Human-Environment Research Lab, time spent in nature connects us to each other and the larger world. Another study at the University of Illinois suggests that residents in Chicago public housing who had trees and green space around their building reported knowing more people, having stronger feelings of unity with neighbors, being more concerned with helping and supporting each other, and having stronger feelings of belonging than tenants in buildings without trees. In addition to this greater sense of community, they had a reduced risk of street crime, lower levels of violence and aggression between domestic partners, and a better capacity to cope with life’s demands, especially the stresses of living in poverty.

This experience of connection may be explained by studies that used fMRI to measure brain activity. When participants viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up, but when they viewed urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated. It appears as though nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and our environment.

Nature impacts health

  • Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, as they call it in Japan, is a famous way of spending time in nature. Research has shown that people who practice forest bathing have optimum nervous system functions, well-balanced heart conditions, and reduced bowel disorders.
  • Outdoor activities reduce the chances of developing eyesight problems like hypermetropia and myopia. A survey conducted on children in Australia revealed that school-aged kids who participated in outdoor activities had better vision than kids who spent more time indoors (Rose, Morgan, Kifley, 2008).
  • Studies have related nature connections to lower BMI. People who exercise outdoors are less fatigued and have fewer chances of suffering from obesity and related conditions.
  • The Forest Bathing research also suggested that by stimulating the production of anti-cancer proteins, frequent walks or trips into the wilderness help patients in fighting terminal diseases. Although this is ongoing research and firmer evidence are awaited, this suggestion is strong enough to prove the benefits of being outdoors

Nature Improves Psychological Well-Being

  • Nature helps in emotional regulation and improves memory functions. A study on the cognitive benefits of nature found that subjects who took a nature walk did better on a memory test than the subjects who walked down the urban streets (Berman, Jonides, Kaplan, 2008).Nature walks benefit people suffering from depression (Shern et al., 2014). Studies had shown that people suffering from mild to major depressive disorders showed significant mood upliftments when exposed to nature. Not only that, but they also felt more motivated and energized to recover and get back to normalcy (Berman, Kross, Kaplan, 2012).
    Recent investigations revealed that being outdoor reduces stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol. Besides that, it also makes us immune to allied problems like hypertension and tachycardia (Lee J, 2011).
    Nature walks and other outdoor activities build attention and focus (Hartig, 1991). There are pieces of evidence that indicate strong environmental connections to be related to better performance, heightened concentration, and reduced chances of developing Attention Deficit Disorder.
    A study at the University of Kansas found that spending more time outdoors and less time with our electronic devices can increase our problem-solving skills and improve creative abilities.

Spiritual Enhancement

  • Environmental psychologists have argued that there is a value component added to the human-nature relationship. By staying close to nature, we feel more grateful and appreciative of what it has to offer to us (Harold Proshansky). Seeing the wonders of the world outside automatically fosters within us the urge to protect it.
  • Breathing in nature gives us wholesome sensory awareness. When we spend time outdoors, we are more mindful of what we see, what we hear, what we smell, and what we feel.

Basic Tenets of The Psychology Of Environment

  • Human dependence on nature validates evolution. We are more adaptive to natural settings than human-made habitats.Contact with natural light is therapeutic and has immediate positive effects on stress, blood pressure, and immune system.
  • Strong connections to the environment enhance the person-space idea and increase environmental perception.
  • Humans are always capable of improving the environment they live in.
  • Humans are active adapters to changes in society and the environment. They reshape their social identities and affiliations according to the physical space they live in.

And to sum up the whole idea:

Too much time in front of screens is deadly
“Nature deprivation,” a lack of time in the natural world, largely due to hours spent in front of TV or computer screens, has been associated, unsurprisingly, with depression. More unexpected are studies by Weinstein and others that associate screen time with loss of empathy and lack of altruism.

And the risks are even higher than depression and isolation. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, time in front of a screen was associated with a higher risk of death, and that was independent of physical activity!

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