The Healing Effect of Nature

The Lovely Stars was a holistic lifestyle blog created by Samantha Roberts, operating from 2014 to 2016. Writing on a wide range of alternative health topics, The Lovely Stars encouraged readers to live naturally, authentically, and creatively.

Originally published February 11, 2015


A recent article published by the New York Times caught my eye and confirmed something that I think many of us know on a deep level – that exposure to nature can have an impact on our mood + well-being.

The article, Easing Brain Fatigue with a Walk in the Park, discusses recent research out of Scotland that suggests a brief walk though a park or green space can lessen stress and improve concentration. This hypothesis is not necessarily new, and has been supported for many years through anecdotal reports, studies examining test results following exposure to parks, and even the cortisol levels found in people that live primarily among trees vs those that live primarily among concrete. However, recent development of a portable electroencephalogram (EEG) has allowed researchers to record and examine brain wave patterns while subjects are actually outside, walking through nature, and finally confirm this hypothesis.

The University of Washington, College of the Environment has also done their own independent research for the effect nature has on alleviating symptoms of fatigue, improving cognition, and reducing stress. Their research supports the significant benefits associated with spending time in green areas. Additionally, Texas A&M University has some interesting research on green time that you can read here; in particular, I was interested by their assertions that house plants can have similar calming + soothing effects.

quotes

You didn’t come into this world, you came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here. – Alan Watts

A somewhat controversial therapy technique, but admittedly very interesting, is called shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. Developed by the Japanese government in the 1980s, shinrin-yoku is a preventative health measure that involves walking through natural areas and engaging all of the senses. Its proponents claim that regular practice of shinrin-yoku can result in deeper + clearer intuition, increased flow of energy, and overall sense of happiness and satisfaction; this is in addition to the other well-documented benefits of regular exposure to the natural world, such as reduced stress, improved mood, increase energy, improved sleep, and improved immune functioning.

What you can do to experience these benefits:

  • Prioritize “green time” and minimize “screen time”
  • Bring plants into your home + work space
  • When outside, be present. Engage all of your senses, and don’t let yourself be distracted by your phone or other technology.
  • Go on a daily walk through a park or green space
  • Get involved in an outdoor sport or hobby, such as kayaking, rock climbing, or gardening
  • Visit gardens in your city. In Portland, we have many to choose from! I recommend the International Rose Test Garden for its expanse of unique rose blooms and breathtaking views of Mt. Hood, or the Japanese Garden for its intricate + calming beauty.
  • Take breaks throughout the day to step outside, or even just look through a window for a few moments
  • Recharge over the weekend with a camping trip or stay in the country
  • Meditate outside.
  • Go hiking. If you are in Portland, check out Tryon Creek for some beautiful trails within the city.

Professor Jules Pretty, of the University of Essex, has this to say:

“For 300,000 generations, humans were hunter-gatherers and farmers. Yet for the last six to eight generations, we have been living in an increasingly industrialized world. The disconnection from nature is deeply felt.”

That’s a pretty powerful statement that really speaks to me and my approach to life. I think that we can all improve our health + wellbeing by looking to the past and understanding what the optimal environment is for humankind.

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WRITTEN BY:

Samantha Roberts is an artist and writer currently residing in the Pacific Northwest. She is a lover of foggy mornings, yin yoga, Bukowski, and The Cure.

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