I am a “Biophiliac” one who seeks connections with nature. I have four pairs of hiking boots, three backpacks, and various other hiking paraphernalia. Stick me in the middle of the woods, the mountains, or the desert and I will feel at home. This is my sanctuary, my cathedral. It is the place where I come for solace, to meditate, to pray, and let nature caress and heal my soul from the weary week. For me as well as many others, you will find us out here and not at the mall.
I have numerous hiking maps and dreams. My two biggest dreams are to hike the “Scottish Highlands” and to hike the “Camino de Santiago” or “The Way of St.James”. Even if you live in a city and the only thing you have is a park, even the park can be a place of respite. But what is it about nature that touches us so deeply and so profoundly that it rejuvenates us like nothing else on earth?
Albert Einstein, had this to say about nature, ” Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything else better.”
Nature reduces our anger, fear, and depression and increases our positive mood and psychological well-being. This not only increases our happiness, it makes us feel better physically.
Time in nature also brings us out of ourselves and our narrow concerns and connects us to a larger world where we find beauty and interest. Thus the environment is connected not only to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health but to purpose and community.
Connected But Disconnected
According to a “Nielsen Company Audience Report”, adult Americans on average spend about 10 hours and 39 minutes consuming some type of media every day. This included how much time we spend daily using our tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs, and TVs.
We are the most connected generation ever. Sadly though we are the most disconnected group globally to have ever walked the earth. Around the table in America kids sit eating with their cells phones. I am sure a number of adults also do the same thing. No one talks much anymore.
We are disconnected from ourselves, our families, our neighbors, friends, and society as a whole. Unless they have Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Sorry I know there is more, but I don’t have time for social media.
It is no wonder that we have lost our wonder. Maybe in order to save the soul of society and ourselves, we need to get back to nature and quickly.
What Nature Does To Us
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 performed in hospitals, offices, and schools have 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 natural elements engrossing, we are absorbed by nature scenes and are 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.
The Psychological Impacts
Attention Restoration Theory (ART) states that a natural environment offers a setting where you can restore your ‘directed attention’. Directed attention is the conscious attention you need for cognitive tasks, and this cognitive focus can become fatigued after prolonged mental activity. Most people live out a relatively hectic lifestyle in a human-made environment, filled with social and professional demands.
Nature offers a completely different setting, which gently distracts you from the stresses of civilized life. This is when ‘undirected attention’ (or the subconscious) can take over. This means that nature recharges your mental batteries! ART focuses on explaining how nature improves cognitive performance, but only indirectly explains how nature reduces stress and improves mood.
Choosing The Path Less Traveled
Humans were never meant to be confined by concrete and steel 100 percent of the time. Within these environments, it’s easy to feel like just another face in the crowd. But when we step into nature, we are reminded all living organisms are connected.
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