Back to nature

Did you know nature can be beneficial for our emotional health and well-being?

The World Health Organization stated that "urban environments had been very commonly associated with higher rates of most mental health issues

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For example, when healthy adults view nature scenes rich in vegetation, areas of the brain associated with emotional stability, empathy, and love are more active.

These same pathways are activated when a person looks at pictures of a loved one. 

These findings support previous investigations showing that nature scenes can enhance brain-wave activity in ways similar to the benefits of meditation.

According to the biophilia hypothesis, attempts to explain the associations between increased rates of mental illness among individuals who live in cities. People who live in or close to natural settings have better natural health.

A longitudinal study from over 5,000 households found that individuals who had moved to greener areas over five years displayed improved mental well-being for at least three years.

Those who had moved to cities reported a decline in their mental well-being. But you don’t have to pack up and move to the countryside to experience some of nature’s benefits — you could take a long walk in nature.

Forest bathing

Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing is the simple act of spending time outdoors surrounded by trees. In the 1980s, the Japanese government discovered that two hours spent in a forest could lower the stress hormone cortisol and blood pressure, improving their attention and memory.

To forest bathe, take long, deep breaths whilst walking, slowing or sit still to feel calm and connected to your natural environment.

Turn off electronic devices and focus your senses to absorb the relaxing atmosphere of trees. Listen to birdsong, smell the damp earth and moss, lookup, watch branches and leaves sway in the canopy, touch tree bark. 

Not got a forest to hand?

Then take your lunch break at a local park.

Back to nature

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences measured the participant tendency toward “rumination,” has been implicated in the development, maintenance, and aggravation of both depressive symptoms with a study that looked at before and after they had taken a 90-minute walk, either within a natural setting or on a busy urban street.

However, any exercise releases endorphins, which are mood boosters, coupled with the power of nature, and you then have a dynamic combination to develop better mental health.

Nature’s therapy

Ecotherapy (a type of formal treatment which involves doing activities outside in nature) has shown it can help with mild to moderate depression. This might be due to combining regular physical activity and social contact with being out in nature.  

Besides this, the natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of the year.

It might appear obvious how gardening or variations of farming help us psychologically and even economically. 

And during the lockdown, we see many of us engaged with nature once more and reaping its benefits.

Why is gardening so good for our mental health? 

Here is a few reasons research reveal about the mental and psychological effect of gardening.

Gardening makes us more responsible – Tending a garden requires time, effort, and even a plan. Having to look after and respect living things help us appreciate better our role and connectedness with nature and how our behaviour (good or bad, small or big) affect the balance in the environment.

It allows us to relax – For many of us, gardening gives a respite from the hustle and bustle of human interaction. Flowers and plants are restful to look at; they don’t have conflicts or emotions; we need to contend with them, just be ourselves by letting go.

Makes us happy – Communing with nature and sweating it out in the process triggers the release of happy hormones serotonin and dopamine and lower cortisol, a stress hormone. When you garden, you are forced to get out in the open, expose yourself to the sunlight, and make yourself feel alive.

Gardening makes us nurturers – When we tend to plant, our caring nature is naturally elicited. It doesn’t matter how old or young we are, whether male or female, plants thrive under whose hands they feel cherished and cultivated.

Gardening makes us more responsible – Tending a garden requires time, effort, and even a plan. Having to look after and respect living things help us appreciate better our role and connectedness with nature and how our behaviour (good or bad, small or big) affect the balance in the environment.

Grief - Death and rebirth we see in our garden assure us that although we are dust, and to dust, we shall return, and life continues if done collectively with family members.

Gardening makes us live in the now – Our ruminations of the past and apprehensions of the future are the very culprit of our anxiety and problems. Gardening helps us focus on the task at hand, get involved in the ebb and flow of the moment, and forget about what has been and what will be as we listen, touch, smell, and see life and beauty surrounding us.

Gardening makes us understand the cycle of life – As we become more immersed in our gardening world, we get to experience first-hand how living things come and go, die and flow. 

This phenomenon reminds us of the realities of life and supports us to confront the most universal of anxieties; death. The death and rebirth we see in our garden assure us that although we are dust and to dust, we shall return because life continues until the end.

And you will reap what you sow; in heart, mind, body, and soul.

The takeaway message is the importance of having accessible natural areas in our increasingly urbanized world for our mental health and overall well-being. It is now time to reconnect with nature.

Tony

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