Reconnecting with nature can help reduce stress, increase blood flow, and relaxation
From the CONCERN: EAP Resilience Library
These days, many of us either live in cities or commute to them for work. City life offers many positives like convenience, variety, and community. At the same time, it comes with some unfortunate byproducts like crowding, light and noise pollution and sometimes a sense of overload.
Not so long ago, most of humanity (a.k.a. our ancestors) dwelled in natural environments. During the time spent evolving in the great outdoors, our bodies and minds developed to the rhythms and flow of nature. This affinity for operating in sync with nature has stayed with us even though our habitat has changed. Since our modern, mostly indoor, life routinely separates us from nature, it can sometimes cause dissonance and unease.
The good news is that reconnecting with nature—even in small ways—can help get us back in sync with our ancestral affinity for the outdoors and unlock related benefits like reduced stress, increased blood flow, and relaxation.
We can experience the restorative power of nature firsthand simply by going for a walk in the park as time spent in natural settings has been shown to generate physical benefits like reduced stress, increased blood flow and relaxation. Additional research indicates that even less immersive exposure to organic or natural materials can also have a powerful, and beneficial effect on our state of mind.
One related study observed brain activity while subjects handled different objects such as a real leaf, a synthetic leaf, bark, or metal. The participants were also asked to describe their feelings when touching the different materials. Whenever participants touched organic material, like the real leaf or tree bark, it triggered a series of calming neurochemical reactions, even though the participants weren’t consciously aware of it. (The way they described how they felt didn’t change, but their brainwaves did.)
The study’s authors believe this shows a clear connection to nature on a physiological, measurable level. Other studies have demonstrated that introducing natural sounds into our urban or work environment can also lift our mood and have a restorative effect on cognitive abilities.
If our bodies unconsciously and positively respond to natural materials, we may be able to benefit from small-scale exposure. That’s helpful because sometimes it’s feasible to step away from our urban environment into a woodsy wonderland for a nature boost, and sometimes it’s not.
Inch by Inch, Desk by Desk: Gardening has proven to be an effective hobby for stress relief. This makes sense because it not only gets us outdoors but also requires us to handle a lot of organic material. But for those of us without access to a lot of land (or without green thumbs), it might be best to start small. There are lots of great gadgets out there for setting up an unobtrusive, vibrant indoor garden that you can tend at work or home. Or you can go minimalist with a simple potted plant. Either way, this can help you reap the benefits of maintaining a colorful and aromatic plot of land, just with much less dirt.
Some easier to grow plants you might try for an indoor, potted oasis: aloe, snake plant, bromeliads, jade plants, pothos and other philodendrons, or dieffenbachia.
Auditory Bliss: Many people listen to repetitive nature sounds—like ocean surf or a babbling brook—to help block out background sounds and fall asleep. These types of natural soundtracks can also help us to focus and decompress at work. If allowed, try listening to nature sounds using earbuds during focus-intensive tasks at work. Or, play a natural soundtrack during your commute or while on breaks. Studies indicate that calm soundtracks of moving water or rainstorms without a lot of bird calls or cricket songs tend to be better for focus and a sense of peace.
Nature’s Many (Other) Colors: You don’t always have to go green to go natural. After all, depending on where you live, a green, lush forest might not be accessible. Luckily, nature comes in many colors.