The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel anxious, or sad, or helpless. A pleasing environment reverses that. This, in turn, elevates your blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension and suppresses your immune system.
And regardless of age or culture, humans find nature pleasing. In one study cited in the book Healing Gardens, researchers found that more than two-thirds of people choose a natural setting to retreat to when stressed.
Being in nature or even viewing nature scenes reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, but it also contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality.
In addition, nature helps us cope with pain. Because we are genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other nature elements engrossing, we are absorbed by nature scenes and distracted from our pain and discomfort.
One of the most intriguing areas of current research is the impact of nature on general wellbeing. Because humans find nature inherently interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing out in nature. Spending time in nature or viewing nature scenes increases our ability to pay attention. This also provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks.
time spent in nature connects us and the larger world. Residents who had trees and green space around their building reported knowing more people, having stronger feelings of unity with neighbors, being more concerned with helping and supporting each other, and having stronger feelings of belonging than tenants in buildings without trees.
In addition to this greater sense of community, they had a reduced risk of street crime, lower levels of violence and aggression between domestic partners, and a better capacity to cope with life’s demands, especially the stresses of living in poverty.
When people viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up, but when they viewed urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated. It appears as though nature inspires feelings that connect us and our environment.
“Nature deprivation,” a lack of time in the natural world, largely due to hours spent in front of TV or computer screens, has been associated, unsurprisingly, with depression. More unexpected are screen time with a loss of empathy and lack of altruism. And the risks are even higher than depression and isolation with cell phones. We need time to unplug and immerse ourselves in nature.
Because when we finally immerse ourselves in nature, we discover just how very much a part of it we still are and will always be.