Nature: this historical remedy is calling for a comeback
Once upon a time, people worked all day in nature’s fields, planting, harvesting, and hunting. Observing nature was as natural and common as breathing. Even twenty years ago, children escaped from parental drama by running into the woods, where they could feel better. Nowadays, I know children who’ve never seen a forest, and parents who are afraid of the dark. And, all generations spend the time that was once with nature in front of computer and television screens.
The following research is from the University of Minnesota and the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality:
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. Even more unexpected, are studies by Weinstein and others who associate screen-time with loss of empathy and lack of altruism.
And there are life-threatening risks. 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!
Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes us feel better emotionally, it contributes to our physical wellbeing, reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. 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.
In addition, nature helps us cope with pain. Because we are genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other elements of nature 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 Ulrich, 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.
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.
In another interesting area, Andrea Taylor’s research on children with ADHD shows that time spent in nature increases their attention span later.
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.
Receive comfort from nature.
We can feel comforted by simple, nature-based facts, such as: we awoke today, the sun rose, and the birds sang. We can see that the constant, creative vibrancy of nature and life goes on. There is air for us to breathe and water to drink. Gravity is working and earth is intact. And we can be quietly, gently thankful for these and so many more things than we can even count.
Connect our senses to nature.
As we breathe in the outside air, we can smell the foliage, the sand, and the earth wherever we are. As we listen, we can hear the rustle of leaves as they dance in the air and play beneath trees. We can taste the fruits from trees, which took many months to produce. We can touch a cool stream and then warm our hands over a fireplace. In all our senses, nature helps connect to the simple pleasures of being alive and having a body, with senses to experience and enjoy life.
Benefits of engaging our senses in nature.
Without dismissing the personal pain we may be experiencing, we can both acknowledge the pain, while also choosing to observe and accept that we are part of this alive and real world of nature. OUR voices are as the songs of birds. OUR actions can be viewed with the same pleasure by others as when we observe prancing puppies. OUR health brings vibrancy and pregnant possibility, as it may give birth to dancing, hugging, and smiling at any moment. By observing and accepting nature, we observe and accept our natural self.
Are we afraid of nature?
Some of us may feel afraid of nature. If this feels true for us, we can involve ourself in as much or as little of nature as we feel comfortable with. If we’ve been depressed or inside a long while, maybe we just want to open a window and let fresh air in. Maybe we want to sit next to an open window. Or, we may want to sit on a porch or take an easy stroll down the sidewalk. Others of us may feel like hiking, biking, or mountain climbing. Whatever we do, we can let our inner goodness guide the way to what’s best for us.
Ready to get back to nature?
If we’re ready to gently allow nature to heal us, we can set aside 15 minutes or longer to do the following:
- Detox our body and mind with a refreshing shower or bath with Epsom or sea salt.
- Dress in our most comfy clothing, regardless how it looks.
- Grab some water. If we like, we may add lemon, lime, orange, strawberry, cucumber, whatever looks healthy and happy to us.
- Commune with and observe nature, however this feels best for us.
- Engage all of our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, hearing, intuition.
- If stressful thoughts or feelings come up, it’s ok. Cry if we need to. Then after a time, we can gently refocus each of our senses back to the beauty of nature.
- Notice, that like a strong tree or fragile flower, a slow turtle or a fast hare, we are all part of nature!
Remember, we are nature.
We cannot be separated from nature, and we are not separate from nature. We cannot live without her. If we ignore nature, we are ignoring ourself. Nature is the provider and caretaker of the trees that give us the oxygen we breathe, the fields for the food we eat, and ground for the houses in which we live. When we nurture our connection with nature by paying attention to, and sharing time with her, the connection and care grows stronger.
Needless to say, there are innumerable benefits and lots of research to support the healing power of nature, but none of them ultimately matter if we don’t go outside. So get out there, and feel better!!
Click here to join us on a virtual tour and hike to Abrams Falls in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee!
What say ye?
And now, we’ll turn it over to you to consider. How Will You heal yourself with nature? Please share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section, so we may grow in strength and willpower together!
Always with love,