At a time when so many of us face a heightened sense of threat and deep concern for our future, can nature cheer up?
“Our current crisis has brought us out of normal existence and into survival mode,” said Dr. Anna Jorgensen, who studies the link between the environment and well-being at the University of Sheffield.
“We no longer consider ourselves as immortal,” she says.
With many more people unable to work or work from home, many have been inspired to explore nature in their neighborhood by refocusing on their immediate surroundings.
As one Instagram user put it, ” [It] takes a lock to find new paths from home. Escape the “office” to follow the Trent river meandering across the flood plain at the bottom of our road, past old stumps of gnarled trees and a sculptural heron. “
As factory and car emissions have decreased, there are fewer tiny particles in the air, so it is easier to see past built-up areas and stars in the night sky. Less noise from the city also highlights the sounds of birds.
There is also a greater interest in gardening. Google Trends shows a doubling of online searches worldwide for compost and seeds compared to a year ago.
Can wilderness experiences help us deal with stress and anxiety?
Although the impact of nature’s experience on our physical health is less well documented, many studies have demonstrated the positive effects of the natural world on our mental health.
Even a brief nature correction – 10 minutes of wind on our cheek or the sun on our skin – can reduce stress, says Dr. Mathew White of the University of Exeter.
If we immerse ourselves in beautiful landscapes, such as a rich coastline or a wild forest full of species, we feel more intense emotions, he adds.
Connecting with nature can help us feel happier and more energized, with an increased sense of purpose and purpose, as well as make tasks more manageable.
Dr. Gretchen C Daily of Stanford University in the United States is using this evidence to help the World Bank and city governments around the world develop policies to integrate the natural environment into our urban landscapes.
Nature-based activities, such as gardening and farming, have been used in mental health treatments worldwide for centuries.
General practitioners in London, Liverpool and Dorset prescribe nature experiments for patients suffering from depression and anxiety. These include a healthy walk or planting mint to feed and grow.
Evidence indicates that you can also take advantage of remote “swimming” in nature. One experiment installed large plasma screens of real-time natural scenes outside of an office, which allowed people to connect with their wider social community and the natural world.
Sounds have a special power to evoke memory, according to doctoral researcher Alex Smalley.
So your feelings can be improved by listening to recordings of natural sounds, such as breaking waves or the cries of forest birds, after experiencing them in person or watching a film or powerful program presenting this landscape.
Dr. Jorgensen believes that seeing the recurring rhythms and rebirth of nature, in which plants and animals survive despite the harsh winter, can also offer us hope and help us deal with the tragedies of our life.
Why does nature have such a positive effect?
Part of nature’s power is its ability to wash away anything that causes a lot of stress, says Dr. Daily.
Slow movements such as ripples of water or clouds moving across the sky place demands on our working memory effortlessly, but enough to distract us from spiraling rumination, guilt and despair .
Researchers call this ability to hold our attention the “sweet fascination” of nature.
Caring for a plant helps us appreciate the power we have to maintain and gives us a sense of accomplishment when the plant is blooming, which, according to Dr. Jorgensen, is especially important for those with mental health issues. .
Tips for discovering more nature
According to Dr. White, the benefits are maximized if we can spend a total of two hours a week connecting with nature. The more sense we use – not only sight and sound, but also smell, sensation and taste – the greater the benefits.
Advice from contributing experts includes:
- Visit a tree near you regularly to see changes in the leaves, flowers or seeds. Do any birds in particular visit? Does its bark shelter lichen, moss or insects?
- Open a window to capture the sound of leaves or the smell of cool rain.
- Walk early in the morning or before sunset, when the warm colors and low light angle enhance the textures of the natural world, including tree trunks and leaves.
- Plant seeds, using those found in fruit or near trees if you cannot get a packet. Watercress seeds grow quickly on paper towels, without soil or pot.
- Think about nature when you cook, savoring the bright colors and tangy flavors of fruits such as currants. When you inhale your morning coffee, imagine the tropical forest birds that contribute to the cross-pollination of coffee trees.
- Integrate natural design elements into your home, hang branches or twigs on your walls or stack rounded stones on a shelf or window sill.
- Try the ideas from the National Trust’s 50 things to do before you are 11 and three-quarters. Much is possible despite social isolation and whatever our age.
Kate Provornaya’s Additional Research