Mental Health Matters: Back to what grounds us
All of what we read recently is either telling us about our crazy pandemic world or telling us how to deal with our crazy pandemic world. By now, most of us can list at least a few things that can help us deal better with what’s going on— take news breaks, eat right, exercise, create structure, lose some structure, connect with family and friends. All of these are good habits when community lockdowns have reduced us to doing only the “essentials” to maintain safe social distance. Amidst all the recommendations, though, it’s easy to forget the most natural way to social distance, which also happens to be a very fundamental way to boost our mental well-being. Go take a hike!
In 1989, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan published a pioneering book, The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective.” It was the first research-based analysis of the critical role that nature plays in our lives and in the entire human experience. They described the intimate relationship between people and the natural environment, a topic for which there is a limited vocabulary. They found this relationship with nature is experienced when spending time in a variety of natural settings. It is experienced from time spent in small parks and backyard gardens, time spent gazing at the jagged peaks of snowcapped mountains, walking through a tightly populated Aspen tree forest as well as rare experiences in faraway, pristine places with little human tinkering. Humans are affected by their relationship to all versions of nature. The Kaplans explored how spending time in natural surroundings can have a restorative effect on our mental energies, improve our creativity, concentration, and problem solving abilities and reduce stress and anxiety.
A 2018 study from the University of East Anglia in the UK revealed spending time in or even just living close to natural green spaces and vegetation is positively related to significant health benefits. These include reductions in type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death and preterm birth. They studied data from 20 countries, including the U.S., and also found that people with access to nature and living close to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, stress and got better sleep.
Most people would not disagree that nature has a positive impact on our lives; however, they may be surprised to learn just how deep the impact may be. Recent research published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2018 has shown that for many people the “lived experience” of nature can create a primary attachment, a secure base which is critical for the development of their sense of self. Instead of nature or the wilderness simply being something that is “out there,” that we can go interact with and then return home, for some people research has found that experiencing nature can become a primary attachment, integral to their sense of self, with a profound impact on their well-being— even a “profound component of human existence.” It is a part of who they are and how they define themselves.
With the current impact of the pandemic hitting some of us hard, it may seem insensitive to suggest such a simple fix as getting out in nature. Even so, we tend to forget that we are a part of nature and that one of the most basic human needs is to feel a sense of belonging. Even people who do not care to “take a hike” can benefit from some time spent in quiet nature. We belong to a much wider world and getting outdoors for an extended period of time can rekindle a feeling of solidarity with our world.
“I know the world’s a broken bone/ But melt your headaches, call it home.” – “Northern Downpour” - Brendon Urie/Panic! At The Disco
Andrea Mory is a human resources and management professional who resides in North Texas. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.