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How Nature Affects Your Mood & Mental Well-Being

How Nature Affects Your Mood & Mental Health

There is no doubting that we’re all on our phones and computers a lot more.

Ever since the pandemic, people have been staying home more, and the youth of today are spending significantly less time outdoors.

While all of this might seem relatively innocuous, it’s actually doing more harm to us than we may think, as there have been countless research pointing to the benefits of nature on our mental well-being.

And in a time where mental health is at an all-time low globally — especially in countries like America — it’s high time to adopt more habits that can help refine the mind.

Connecting with nature is one of them.

Wilderness and Well-Being

The benefits of immersing ourselves in the nature are everywhere.

For example, in Japan, there is even a practice known as ‘Shinrin-yoku’ — also known as ‘forest bathing.’ This is the experience of walking into or immersing yourself in a forest as a means to refresh your soul and maintain multiple health benefits.

forest trees

Those who participated in this act experienced lower concentrations of cortisol, lower blood pressure, and low pulse rates.

Not only that but some psychologists and studies suggest that being in nature such as the wilderness can help to calm our senses and cultivate inner peace.

Fritz Perls, a German psychiatrist and psychotherapist point out that, as humans continue to live in complex social structures, the more we begin to lose touch with ourselves and the ‘inner voice’ within. Self-awareness becomes lost in the noise of a hustling, bustling society and it’s this attention to self that allows us to reach a level of psychological maturity.

This can be tough when we distance ourselves from the wilderness, as many of us do. Being away from nature for too long may impact our mental health more severely than we think. In fact, urban dwellers show higher signs of depression and anxiety than than people who live outside of the city.

People who regularly experience the wilderness can learn to listen to themselves better and discover the nature of their humanity. And this is something we all need more than ever, especially at a time when we feel trapped behind the concrete walls of a dehumanizing society.

Our Affinity for Nature

Beyond feeling happy and refreshed in nature from the touch of sun, or the feel of a soft breeze on our skin, some may argue that humans have a biological affinity for nature.

The biophilia hypothesis is an idea that has been around as far back as the ’70s, first introduced by famous German social psychologist Erich Fromm and later popularized by Edward O. Wilson, an American biologist, naturalist, and writer. Known as the father of biodiversity.

While Fromm defined biophilia in his book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, as the,

The passionate love of life and of all that is alive.

— Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness

Wilson, also considered one of the most influential scientists of our time, later added to this, by hypothesizing that humans innately seek affiliation with nature and other forms of life. In his 1984 book Biophilia, he goes on to write,

To explore and affiliate with life is a deep and complicated process in mental development. To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it hope rises on its currents.

— Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

This affinity for nature is prevalent all around us, in our daily lives. If you think carefully, we all have some desire to travel, and when we do, a whole lot of us are inclined to sightsee natural environments, from parks, beaches, mountains, jungles, and everything in between.

Even when it comes to buying homes, people tend to be willing to spend more on homes that have natural views, with buyers willing to spend 58% more on properties that look out at the water, and 127% more on waterfront homes.

Humanizing our surroundings

Even if we live in cities, we can do more to nurture the nature around us. From visiting more natural places to creating greener spaces, one immediate solution lies in the idea behind biophilic design — a method to help connect humans with nature through architecture, interior, and general construction of buildings.

Although the concept was introduced and popularized in the last few decades, biophilic design has been viewed in architecture since the days of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

As mentioned above, the idea of humanizing our environments and setting them up in a way that helps our health is not new.

There are various examples of improving the hospital with biophilia, as far back as the late 1800s, with the famous statistician and nurse Florence Nightingale. In her popular environmental theory, Nightingale put greater emphasis on visual stimulus, nature, and color in the hospital — or the home of many of her patients.

Florence Nightingale: Environmental Theory and Biography - Nurseslabs

The concept revolved around the idea that an environment should be made to be nature-centered with five necessary key components: fresh air, pure water, efficient drainage, cleanliness, and light or direct sunlight. As such, this would affect the physical and mental processes of the people within that environment — all in a much more positive way.

Greener spaces, healthier minds

All of this is not to say that you need to move out of the city and live in the mountains.

Self-isolation can lead to cabin fever.

What is being suggested is to remember to immerse yourself more in nature, both physically and visually. In fact, just spending two hours in the wild a week can boost moods and improve overall psychological well-being.

As Richard Louv, an American writer famous for his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder writes,

Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.

— Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

Nature is a natural stress-reliever. It can help reduce a sense of isolation and foster a sense of belonging. And that alone is plenty of reason to head out more — especially in this ever-more angry, stressful world.