By Kaitlyn Dunagan
It’s a traditional understanding that nature proves healing or a deeper understanding of life. This idea has translated beautifully into so many stories, books and even movies (hi, Wild!) Yet, there is still a fair amount of mystery attached to the why or how of nature’s therapeutic affect on human beings. We know pieces of the puzzle but some pieces are still missing. This has encouraged researchers to find evidence that supports the majority of humanity’s experience when it comes to finding serenity in natural environments.
Their discoveries have encouraged several healthcare professionals to prescribe nature as a cost-free, medical solution. The psychological practice of Eco-therapy has also emerged as a result. Eco-therapy focuses on the human-nature relationship and uses it to re-center the human spirit. It seems as though nature provides humans with the perfect amount of stress. It keeps us interested and aware yet provides a soothing atmosphere, with sounds and smells that stabilize our physiological state. The following facts reveal the reasons nature truly is the best medicine.
1. Being around trees has lead to quicker recovery in hospitals. Patients that were given a room with a brick wall recovered more slowly than patients who had a view of the great outdoors.
What this means for you: If you or a loved one needs to be admitted to a hospital, ask for a room with a view. It could significantly decrease the time you spend in a hospital. If it is not possible, try to incorporate a “natural” theme in the hospital room, with sights and sounds you would find outdoors.
2. Children who live in more natural environments experience less stress and behavioral issues.
What this means for you: Technology is not inherently evil but it would be good to pack up the tablets from time to time and get outside. Whether this means planning a family camping trip or going on a day hike, every little step in the dirt counts.
3. The psychological theory of “ART” or, Attention Restoration Theory, explains that nature revives us because it does not demand as much from us as our everyday lives do.
What this means for you: Nature can improve your cognitive performance. Pick up a new outdoor hobby, such as birding or fishing, anything that will place you in an interactive environment.
4. Patients that participate in the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “being in the forest” have lower blood pressure, pulse rates, cortisol levels, and reduced stress.
What this means for you: Stress can be helpful and that is why walking in the woods is the perfect activity if you have a big project coming up, a test, or a new chapter in your life is about to begin. There will be enough hidden away in the forest to engage your mind but as studies show, stabilize your physiological well-being.
5. Cancer patients benefit from nature and if placed in a natural setting, are able to complete mental tasks more easily than the patients who are not.
What this means for you: If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, encourage your healthcare provider to immerse you (or them) in the wilderness as part of a recovery strategy or just to keep your mind active. Even if you do not have cancer, the benefits of exposing yourself to nature can help you too (see #4).
6. Nature sights and sounds during stressful situations reduce pain and discomfort.
What this means for you: With more intrusive surgeries, asking your doctor to play nature sounds while you are undergoing the process could significantly decrease the pain you will experience. And less physical pain is always welcome.
7. Sunlight reduces feelings of depression or seasonal affective disorder.
What this means for you: Sunlight is not always available, especially during the winter months, but when it is—get outside. You can also replace the sunlight with a bright artificial light. If you are able to, take a vacation in a sunny state to rejuvenate yourself. It will boost your mood.
8. The bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae, which is found in soil, increases quality of life, cognitive functions, and decreases pain in cancer patients.
What this means for you: Start a garden to boost your immune system. Allowing yourself to be exposed to M. vaccae will leave you in a better mood and with a new hobby.
9. People who live in “green communities” report a stronger sense of harmony with their neighbors, less crime and reduced aggression, despite living in poverty.
What this means for you: Even if you live in an urban community, try to surround your home with some hardy, indoor and outdoor plants. It could increase your relationship with your neighbors, your family, and can be a great conversation starter.
10. Psycho-evolutionary theory states that a positive reaction toward nature is innate. When participants viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain involved in empathy lit up but when they viewed urban scenes, the part of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety lit up.
What this means for you: Get creative and make it a home improvement project. If you are not able to get outside a lot or have a job in the city, find art pieces of natural places and scatter them around the house. Having these images in your home can reduce your anxiety and activate your empathy.
Nature is the silent teacher, the permissive parent that allows us to learn life’s lessons when we have no one else. Whether it be because we seek solitude or have to make a difficult decision that no one can make for us; it surrounds us with soft answers. Answers we can take if we wish but there is no push or pull because we will inevitably learn it’s lessons, even if we do not apply them in our daily lives. So talk a walk in the woods, listen to the birds, and learn the lessons it is waiting to teach you.