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Why Nature is good for your Mental Health

Why Nature Is Good For Your Mental Health

Do you ever wonder why you enjoy being in nature? Or why does it help you relax? If you do, continue to read because I will explain why humans love nature so much and what about it makes us feel this good.

A love for  nature

It is not strange that you might feel drawn to nature, we all do! In fact, there is a scientific theory, called the biophilia hypothesis, that states that humans have an instinctive love for nature that is probably caused by our genes or evolution. Not surprisingly, this love can be seen all around us. Artists often use nature as a source of inspiration, think about Monet or Van Gogh. Architects use biophilic design to incorporate nature into buildings like in Singapore’s Changi Airport. Engineers use biomimicry to optimize or create designs for humans to use, for example: in Japan a bullet train was made to mimic the aerodynamics of a kingfisher (Naturalis). And finally, we are inspired to decorate our houses and gardens using plants.

In a clockwise order: water lilies by Claude Monet, Singapore Changi Airport, Monstera houseplant, Japanese bullet train, kingfisher.

Nature as a mental health advocate

Besides simply liking nature, it is also good for you. Research has found that being in a green space can help relieve stress and help cure mental illnesses such as a burnout, depression and anxiety. Of course, being outside will not solve everything, but it might help. Nature can also help to increase performance and memory. And, bonus point: you only need to look at nature for five minutes to start experiencing positive effects! So, perhaps take your study session to the local park when the weather becomes nice again! Until then, maybe invest in some house plants. Or, simply hang pictures of nature in your room, because research has also found that you don’t even have to go outside to experience the positive effects. Simply looking at a picture of nature will already increase your mood and boost your cognitive performance.

This all sounds great, but why does it work this way? There are two theories that explain why nature has such positive effects on our wellbeing: stress reduction theory and attention restoration theory.

Nature’s calming effect: the Stress Reduction Theory

Humans have been on this planet for at least a million years. But, all those years ago cities did not exist. Most of human history was spent in nature, which is why humans know very well if something is safe in nature. Cities are relatively new to humans; this means that there is not yet an instinct that tells you if something is safe or not. If something is unsafe, or you don’t know if it’s safe, you’ll be more alert and therefore stressed.

However, if you move to a safe area, like a park, your instincts will tell you that it’s safe. When you feel safe, the feeling of stress will fade away as well; this is the Stress Reduction Theory.

Recharge with nature: the Attention Restoration Theory

When you find yourself in a green environment, what catches your attention? Typically, it’s the sight of something in motion, such as a bird soaring above or leaves rustling in the wind. Nature has a way of effortlessly drawing your focus to its surroundings. This may be due to movement, but also because of recurring patterns in nature. There are numerous repeated patterns in nature, such as the leaves on a tree branch all having the same shape, a flower having a circular arrangement of petals or a patch of grass containing blades of the same type.

However, these patterns are not identical every time, as the leaves on a tree, for example, may not be of the same size or orientation. These irregular patterns are easy for your brain to process and at the same time stimulate you. They help you to shift your attention and recharge without being overstimulated; this is the Attention Restoration Theory.

What can you do?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress or struggling with mental health issues, taking some time to connect with nature can be a simple yet effective way to ease your mind. Spending time outdoors and immersing yourself in the beauty of nature can have a calming effect on the mind and body. Simply looking at trees, touching leaves, and observing birds can help to shift your focus away from negative thoughts and into the present moment. However, if you find it challenging to go outside, don’t worry. It will also help to just stare at a houseplant. 

Here are five things that helped me improve my mental health with nature that you could try as well:

  1. Forest bathing
  2. Watching a nature documentary
  3. Listening to a podcast about nature (find some inspiration here).
  4. Start growing your own veggies
  5. Looking out for wildlife

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