Absorbing nature

Can the natural world around us really support our wellbeing?

Research reveals that environments can increase or reduce our stress, which in turn impacts our bodies. What you are seeing, hearing, experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working.

The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel anxious, or sad, or helpless. This in turn elevates your blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension and suppresses your immune system.

Being in a noisy, crowded office, or stuck in a contained area with fake light and air flow – something most of us will have experienced at some point. How did you feel? Now think of a time when you may have been outside in a field or forest, with natural light and fresh air. Feeling different yet? Even thinking of different environments can create different emotions.

A Japanese experiment in 2016 asked 2 groups of participants to take equal length walks in either a forest or an urban setting, whilst having heart rate and blood pressure measured. Results showed that those that had walked in the forest had significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure and reported better moods and less anxiety than those walking in the urban setting. Therefore proving that whilst exercise is beneficial, where you exercise is worth considering.

Ways nature helps.

Nature soothes –

Nature has been shown to support patients recovering from surgery in managing pain. Hospitals are slowly changing their appearance and becoming a more holistic and satisfying environment. Providing comfort and appealing environments supports patient recovery.

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.

A study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery; half had a view of trees and half had a view of a wall. The patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in hospital.

Nature restores –

In one study in Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced

Time in nature or viewing nature scenes increases our ability to pay attention. As humans, we find nature inherently interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing out in nature and this provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks. Studies have also shown that children with ADHD have an increased attention span after spending time in nature.

Nature connects –

Nature itself is part of the wider world and planet we live on. It connects plants with animals, animals with seas, seas with air and as part of the wider world we are an integral connection as well. Connecting us to each other as well as the environment around us.

Studies have used MRI scans to measure brain activity. When viewing nature, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up, whereas when viewing urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety showed up. A US study showed residents in Chicago housing surrounded by trees and green space, reported knowing more people, having stronger feelings of neighbourhood unity and had stronger feelings of belonging and were more concerned with helping and supporting their neighbours than those that lived in more built up urban areas.

How to increase nature therapy into your life.

Take a walk in an a non urban environment. If possible, take some time to stop. Smell your surroundings, listen to the noises and if safe, touch some of the plants and trees around you. Really engage in your surroundings. Ideally this would be 3 times a week for at least 15 minutes, but anything will be a start and beneficial. And whilst many of us want to hibernate inside when raining or cold, this is a perfect time to really connect. The aroma is much stronger, the wind blowing creates different noises and sensations.

If you can not get out as regularly as you would like, start with simple steps indoors. Get some houseplants around the home in rooms where you spend a lot of time. English Ivy, Pothos, Ferns, Peace lily, Aloe Vera are all great plants to have around that are beneficial to yourself and help to purify the air around you. But there are many more if you research.

Maybe not ideal when you need to be productive or focused, but nature sounds are key to help you relax. Water babbling down a stream, or leaves rustling in the wind can transport you to a different place and time and support the body to relax, unwind, destress and reduce anxiety. There are numerous apps around that provide a variety of meditation and supportive tunes. Our favourite is Insight Timer.

So what about Essential Oils?

Known to interact with the brain and affect moods and emotions, these are simple tools to always have available to provide whatever aroma is needed.

Depending on where and of course the weather, nature can be both grounding and stimulating. 

Citrus scents are stimulating and energising whilst my favourite to really absorb a a feel of nature therapy are the wood oils. These are grounding, calming, and soothing and bring a feeling of utter peace across me when inhale.

When you want a reminder of fields of floral fancy, try Rose, Ylang Ylang or Geranium to add a floral aroma around the home. 

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