How staying connected to nature helps us to survive & thrive.
There are so many amazing benefits to our health and wellbeing that we receive from nature. This is no new phenomenon - but the science behind it was novel to me when I learned about it in a university lecture a decade ago. I have always been obsessed with nature, and have always had an outdoorsy life - but I was amazed to learn of the facts about the impact of nature on our mental health during my Psychology degree.
So, what is it about being in nature that helps us to feel great? Below are five of the reasons why connecting to our natural surroundings is so important, followed by some suggestions of how you might enjoy immersing yourself in nature.
Have you noticed yourself feeing mentally refreshed after being in nature, even after a long, tiring walk? Research has found that exposure to natural environments enables our minds to restore from mental fatigue (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). It is suggested that spending time in natural environments enables effortless attention, and provides a respite from our daily demands and stressors of normal life - helping us to feel more relaxed & restored. So the next time you're feeling stressed or drained, try taking a moment outdoors to come back to yourself.
Nature soothes our body and brain. Spending time in nature has been associated with lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone), reduced stress and improved wellbeing (Hartig et al., 2010). It has also been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, which are measures of physiological stress. Reducing excess stress is vital for improving our wellbeing, and whilst it might not be possible to control all of the stressors in our lives - we can dedicate time to reducing that stress by simply being in nature, and allow that overwhelm to be washed away.
When feeling foggy-brained, or distractible, we can utilise our natural environment to help us to find focus. Berman et al. (1995) found that exposure to nature could improve cognitive function, attention and mental clarity. The soothing and engaging aspects of natural environments can restore our ability to attend to cognitive tasks effectively - so when you're finding yourself distractible at your desk, take ten minutes to be in nature to reset your mind. Absorb the landscape, or focus on just one plant, and see what it does for your mental clarity.
Aesthetic and Sensory Benefits
Van den Berg et al (2003) researched the well documented tendency to prefer natural over built environments, and explored the impact of mood before and after exposure to both scenes. Participants were shown a frightening film, followed by a video of a built or natural environment. Those who viewed the natural environment rated the scene more beautiful, and showed a greater improvement in mood than those who saw the built scene. Nature presents us with aesthetically pleasing and sensory-rich experiences. It's hard to not be in awe of a beautiful sunset, a stunning panoramic view from a mountain top, or the expansiveness of the sea. As well as that, we are stimulated by natural sounds - of birds, waves, wind in the trees; scents of flowers and salty air; the touch of the breeze on our skin, or the sand beneath our toes. These sensory stimulants pull us into the here and now, and boost positive emotions - which all add to promoting our wellbeing.
Connection and Meaning
Nature has the power to give us a sense of connection and meaning in our lives. It's common to experience feelings of humility, awe and interconnectedness - all reminding us that we are part of a bigger picture. Some people feel a spiritual connection when spending time in nature too. This experience of being part of the larger natural world can help us to zoom out from our worldly problems and remind us what truly matters to us. Garza-Teran et al.'s (2022) research highlighted the benefits of being immersed in nature, showing that it improves nature connectedness, wellbeing and emotions.
We tend to be more active when we spend time in nature - engaged in activities such as gardening, walking or running - which brings about a whole host of additional benefits to our wellbeing. Pretty et al. (2010) found that physical activity levels improved when time in natural environments increased - which also saw improved physical outcomes. So whilst we're enjoying the mental benefits that come with being in nature, we're likely to be improving the health of our physical body too. We can simply stroll along and take in the views, or pursue more dynamic movement outdoors - like rock climbing and swimming to enhance those natural benefits.
...and those are just some of the reasons why bringing people together through Salt & Light Retreat usually means spending time in nature. There are so many ways to enjoy nature; my favourite practices are creating natural mandalas with shells, flowers or leaves; drawing patterns in the sand and foraging some snacks. Whenever the weather is good enough, I also love to practice yoga outdoors - and of course, my daily cold dips in the sea, rivers and lakes continue! Sometimes it is nice to just sit down with a cup of tea, and take it all in.
If you're feeling inspired to feel the benefits of being in nature - check out our upcoming events to experience connecting to nature on a whole new level!