There has been an incredible amount of evidence on the benefits of the natural world on health. The research suggests that being in nature can reduce rumination and depressive feelings, as well as boosting memory (great for exam pressures!). Not only this, but further research with children suggests that nature can have a positive effect on self-esteem, creativity and positive risk-taking. To sum up, it provides a calming influence, improving concentration and reducing symptoms of ADHD.
It has even been found to reduce physical pain!
Research by a psychologist, Roger Ulrich in 1983 suggested that hospital patients who looked out to a natural view recovered quicker and needed fewer painkillers than those who looked out at a brick wall. That is pretty awesome!
An antidote to sensory overload.
Some theories suggest that the benefit of nature is that it acts as a counter to the overuse of our directed attention. Directed attention is when we actively inhibit competing stimuli (like when we have to concentrate really hard when things distract us). It requires conscious effort and overuse leads to our attentional system becoming overwhelmed and tired.
In fact, this is something you have probably experienced while studying too long. You start to make mistakes or get easily distracted. Your mind starts wandering and you become fidgety and restless or you become headachy and irritable.
One way of combatting this is in the form of an environment that engages involuntary attention and gives your directed attention time to rest and recover. This can be in nature, when we let our mind wonder and engage in what is around us.
It is not the same for everyone.
As with everything, what works with one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. I know there are loads of reports on the benefits of forest bathing, spending time under the trees, but for me, my release is found by the sea. You might be someone who loves getting their hands messy in the garden or maybe you like to sit and watch the world go by next to a river.
If I look back through my life, the sea has been my saviour. I like how it is always there, always constant and yet always different. It is changed by light and weather. I like how it makes me feel small and that there are bigger things than my problems and how, whatever is going on in my life, the sea is unaffected. I like the mystery, the power. I like it most in a storm when it slightly scares me. It makes me feel alive.
When I am by the sea, I find I automatically completely immersed in what my senses are taking in – I watch the waves, I smell the salt and the seaweed – I can even taste the salt on my lips, I can hear the waves and the seagulls, I can feel the spray or the warmth of the sun.
A miracle cure?
I am not suggesting that being in nature has magically solved all my problems, or that it always works to take away any mental or physical pain. But it has definitely helped. It has definitely provided me with space to think and reassess.
Nature has helped ground me in times of physical and mental distress. The times when I felt like I couldn’t find hope, or the times when I felt like my world had changed beyond what I could cope with.
Tips for increasing nature benefits.
- Keep a plant in your room. Research has found that having plants indoors reduces stress and improves memory and feelings of calm. Happily, research has also found that the effect is even true for fake plants! A bonus for those of us who can’t keep a plant alive!
- Get out for a short walk when you are able – while on the walk, take time to notice as much greenery and nature as you can – tiny flowers peeping through flagstones, trees or even look up and notice the clouds (just don’t bump into anyone!)
- Be aware of what works for you – if it’s a peaceful moment by the river, a walk in the forest or watching the sea on a stormy day. Take note of what you’re needs are and work to fit these in around your life.
- If you can’t get out to nature, try creating the feelings at home – listening to sounds of the waves or wind in the trees on your phone can have a calming effect and has been found to lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
- Have a go at growing a plant!
Thank you for Chrissy for writing this informative and engaging blog on how we can all find things in nature that can help us feel to feel calm.
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