Indulge in the benefits of nature
This was edited into a piece for The Body Shop which subsequently, many of the Top 10 cities for getting back to nature have written up into local articles.
I know I've been writing a lot about nature, which was originally inspired by my collaborations with WATG who put sustainability at the forefront of design, but sometimes even if you are surrounded by information, it doesn't always permeate.
I've always thought of myself as a "city girl"...more than that a "Rodeo Drive" type girl who would prefer shopping, hairstyling, spas and nail bars to all other forms of recreation. Just last week however, taking what little holiday I get, my husband and I went to a local retail outlet
that happens to be at a lakeside. My husband was looking for a new place to run, and I thought I'd indulge in some retail therapy.
Within moments of being in the first shop I thought I would much rather be enjoying the sunshine with a walk around the lakes and that's exactly what I did, with no regret, a fuller wallet, and a quizzical expression thinking...well this is new!
The benefits of nature
Humans have an innate affinity with imagery and sensations that remind us of what we see in nature – wood, slate, curves. As such, simply getting outside has huge benefits for our mental health – the fresh air helps clear our lungs, but also the sunlight naturally stimulates the production of vitamin D which also assists our immune system – and the sun as well as exercise in it can help produce endorphins (our body’s natural pain relievers) as well as serotonin (which helps regulates our sleep and appetite) and dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter). Not only that but if you’re going out there with friends, you’re likely to also be producing oxytocin – the bonding hormone giving you the feeling of the warm and fuzzies.
Research backs this up - in Sweden, patients in a hospital bed facing an outdoor window
(overlooking nature) showed better recovery rates compared with those who did not; in Japan “Forest Bathing” – especially capitalising on the healing and regenerating properties of pine – is GP recommended, and Stamford University (amongst others) has found that getting outside regularly reduces symptoms of stress and depression.
Outside the clinical realm too, being out in nature can boost our attention span and people often report feeling more “grounded” when in nature – which can give us the strength we need to face the day’s challenges.
Tips to make the most of the outdoors
Stop, savour and enjoy. Being outdoors triggers a release of endorphins and more importantly it can give us space to press pause. It may be worth noting that where architects have defined three key “spaces” – the 1st Space (our home) the 2nd Space (our work) and the 3rd Space (our community eg. Coffee shops) – the outdoors has the potential to provide a 4th Space, a space to simply “be”. A place where you can unplug, a place where you can get away, at least mentally, for a moment.
Stroke a pet: It's not only human hugs and affection that generates oxytocin, but our pets can stimulate its production in us...and even benefit themselves!!
Meditation/Deep breathing: This produces GABA (an inhibitory molecule which generates a sense of calm), and if you combine that with nature and sunlight, you'll get the extra boost of serotonin as well!
Take a photo and brighten your laptop, phone or room with a sunny screensaver
Pictures of a beautiful place or sunny climate, offer us a quick reminder of happy times and memories. This can generate a sense of warmth and relaxation even with wind beating at the door. Humans are often quickly moved by imagery, and having photos of places you love (with the ensuing memories of people we love attached), can reinforce those feelings of affection as well.
Bring the outdoors in: Keep evergreens, fresh fruit, flowers or greenery
Pine smells great, and researchers at Kyoto university in Japan found that healthy volunteers who strolled through a pine forest for 15 minutes a day reported more positive
ratings on a mood scale compared with those who did not. Keeping fresh flowers, plants, and colourful fruits around will also brighten your environment – and the latter will keep your snacking healthy.
Try something new
The brain responds well to novelty. On a bright day, try a new path. Enjoy the new experiences such as the sensation of the sun, the breeze, the new smells or sounds, and see who you meet on your adventure. Whilst out take a moment to breathe deeply – in through the nose, and out through the mouth.
No longer the pursuit of the retired, gardening can be a great way to stimulate both dexterity AND patience as you create and nurture your choice of greenery – even if it’s a window box.
Connecting with nature can take advantage of our brain’s neuroplasticity and make fundamental changes in our brain chemistry helping us better withstand 21st century living demands, and boost our capacity for joy.
And two big bonuses:
- nature is all free AND
- you can enjoy it with or without company!!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt