You are standing beside a lake as a bird sings it’s final song for the day, the sun setting behind the backdrop of mountains. You can hear the sound of a river flow, providing renewed life to this lake. You feel the breeze against your cheek and smell the fresh scent of pine from the forest behind you. You notice the small splash of a fish jumping, creating a single ripple in the calm waters.
It’s hard to believe that there are people out there who don’t experience moments like this. Sadly, our society is so consumed by screens, work, school and the bustle of city life that only some of us actually take time to enjoy the outdoors.
Looking way back to the early days of human life, cities and civilization did not exist as we know it now. We as a species started off in our natural habitat – the outdoors. We depended on nature for subsistence and survival. Over time, civilization developed, and cities and towns were built. Our brains were not designed for the fast-paced, technology-driven society that we currently live in. Never in human history have people spent so little time interacting with the outdoor environment. We have become zombies that are dependent on the next fix of coffee and spend our time glued to social media and Netflix. With such little time dedicated to unwind and reflect, it’s no wonder we have a mental health crisis and many people are reliant on pharmaceuticals to cope with anxiety and depression. Stress has a hugely negative effect on our overall health and is linked to a lower functioning immune system, high blood pressure, muscle tension, poor sleep, digestive problems – the list goes on. Research continually suggests that lack of time outside is playing a role on our increased stress levels. It has become evident through extensive research that interacting with nature is an integral part of human quality of life.
So what can nature do for you?
Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Head to the forest! Nature’s restorative benefits can help to clear and relax the mind and gives the body an opportunity to reset. Mental fatigue is such a huge part of our fast-paced society. Natural and urban environments command our attention in very different ways. In urban settings we are on high alert. We have to pay attention to traffic lights, the sound of cars and sirens, and the hustle and bustle of people trying to get from point A to point B. Natural environments command very little of us and provide us with a different and more subtle kind of stimulation which actually reverses mental fatigue we carry from urban environments. Even more, spending time in nature positively impacts depression and mood and our capacity to focus attention. It has even been found to help improve attention in children with ADHD.
Nature is so powerful that simply viewing it has healing effects. One study found that hospital patients who were in rooms that viewed the outdoors through a window recovered from surgery at a faster rate than patients who had a restricted view of nature. Another study concluded that people who had forest-viewing windows at their workplace had higher rates of job satisfaction and reduced levels of stress in comparison to workers with non-forest views. Even the simple act of having a plant in a room has been shown to decrease stress levels. Given all of these positive effects of indirect contact with nature, it only makes sense that spending time in nature is even more beneficial for our health and wellness.
Due to many of our lifestyles we are not only spending less time outside, but we are becoming less and less physically active. This combination negatively impacts our physical and mental health. When we spend time outside, we are more likely to engage in physical activity resulting in the maintenance of healthy body weight, lower blood pressure, higher endurance and lower risk of disease. In Japan there is a practice called “Forest Bathing” also known as Shinrin-Yoku and can be defined as “taking in, in all of our senses, the forest atmosphere”. It has been found that spending time in forests promoted lower levels of cortisol – the stress hormone, decreased pulse rate, lower blood pressure, a higher functioning nervous system and decreased inflammation in comparison to spending time in urban environments. They say even 10 minutes a day in nature can make a difference!
“In Every Walk With Nature, One Receives Far More Than He Seeks”– John Muir
Imagine a world where more people spent time in the great outdoors? Perhaps we’d have a much happier, healthier society and a society that wants to fight for the environment rather than destroy it. They say that in order for people to develop empathy for something, they must be able to experience it or relate to it. How do we expect people to fight for the environment if they never interact with it? We need to empower people to get outside and embrace nature. Starting with our selves. That being said, now it’s your turn! Go ahead and get after it! What are you waiting for? Get off your computer and go take a hike!
Tiffany Stahle lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and is an avid lover of photography and the outdoors. She enjoys spending her time hiking, camping and road tripping all over the Pacific Northwest. She works as a recreation therapist at a mental health and addiction treatment centre and is passionate about incorporating her love for the outdoors into the work she does with her clients.
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