Hi my name is Dawn, I took most of the photos you’ve seen on this site, I am a wildlife photographer and have wanted to be one since I was 10 years old. I, therefore, have spent a lot of time in nature and have a deep appreciation for it. Long before researching my university dissertation ‘How a human-nature connection benefits the individual human’, I knew nature was good for me. I knew it deep in my bones. Nature made me better, in every way (except maybe when I got cold).
Maybe you’re thinking, well you’re crazy for animals of course you like it outside and of course being happy makes you feel better, but I like Eastenders and playing video games, going outside will not make me happy or feel better. In that sense, maybe you’re right, maybe you will get cold or wet or uncomfortable in the moment but there really is genuine scientific research to back this claim of mine. In fact there’s heaps of it, I won’t swamp you with it all at once.
Besides the obvious, that being outside (probably) means you’re being active and getting fresher air, nature can benefit your physical and mental health from reduced stress, heart rate and blood pressure, to increased pain tolerance.
There is, of course, huge variation in application of nature therapy. Some interesting examples are that photographs of nature or a natural view decreases recovery time for people in hospital, as well as the theorised ‘three day affect’ study carried out by Florence Williams (2018). This study involved participants spending 3 days immersed in nature and resulted in positive alterations in brain chemistry.
The main guy writing papers and conducting experiments to test psycho-evolutionary is Roger Ulrich. If you want to dive deeper into scientific papers, googling him is the place to start. Ulrich 1984 is the paper that discusses the recovery time of inpatients with a natural view through their window compared to those with an urban/ non-natural view.
We are animals, we are built to be outside. ‘If the last 2 million years of our species’ history were scaled to a single human lifetime of 70 years, then the first humans would not have begun settling into villages until 8 months after the 69th birthday. Some people—aboriginal groups in Australia, South America, the Pacific Islands, and elsewhere—would remain hunter-gatherers until a day or two before the 70th birthday. We have broken with long-established patterns of living rather late in our life as a species’ (frumkin, 2001, Beyond Toxicity).
I’m sure you’ve heard of the idea of your pupils dilating when you see something you like. There actually is a similar change in your brain when you see images of open natural spaces, like the ones we evolved to inhabit. We relax when in nature in a way we can’t in an urban environment that’s so unfamiliar to the one our animal body recognises, one that is confined and confining. In the city we are mentally straining ourselves everyday because we just can’t see far enough. Our flight or fight is in turmoil away from our natural savanah setting where we can see all the way to the horizon.
The importance of taking some time out for yourself on the weekend or during your holidays is undeniable, but next time consider doing as much as you can for your health, in the mental and physical sense, and go out into nature. If it’s an afternoon walk in the woods or a weekend on the coast, nothing is too small. And if you don’t love it at first you probably will learn to, medicine is always sweet but nature will always make you better.
A few easy ways to include nature into our urban lifestyles:
- This first one’s easy as they’re super on trend at the moment and you can find them everywhere…you guessed it. House plants. Shown to lower anxiety levels when placed in hospitals, schools and offices.
- Listening to bird song. According to a Kings College London study this improves mental well-being.
- Try and watch a sunset, even in a city.