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How Nature Can Improve Well-being

/ / Self-Care, Stress Management

This post is also available in: Melayu (Malay)

Have you ever felt the need to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life? Planning a quick getaway so you can just relax and rewind? Well, fret not. Spending time in the midst of lush greenery, the fresh air and the subtle sound of nature may help you do just that. There have been many findings and studies that have proven the positive effects of spending time in nature towards one’s physiological and psychological state. Nature can offer an abundance of benefits if you’re looking for a way to de-stress and replenish your mind and body. Among those identified are:

Reducing Stress

If you’ve been feeling tensed, irritated or stressed out lately, it might be a good idea to go outdoors, visit a local park or take a walk down a nature trail. Take some time to relax, take a deep breath and immerse yourself in the warmth and tranquillity of nature. It has been found that exposure to a natural setting can reduce stress, facilitating stress recovery at a much faster rate compared to when individuals were exposed to an urban environment (Ulrich, Simons, Losito, Fiorito, Miles & Zelson, 1991). Individuals exposed to the natural environment also reported experiencing more positive feelings (Ulrich et al., 1991). You might also want to consider going for group nature walks next time. Apart from having the opportunity to connect and meet new people, frequent group walks in a natural environment such as rivers, paths, cycleways and farmlands were associated with a decrease in perceived stress and negative emotions (Marselle, Irvine & Warber, 2013).

Improving Attention

Have you had difficulty focusing your attention on a task? Or feel anxious and irritated with all the workload piling up? You might be experiencing what is known as ‘mental fatigue’. Mental fatigue occurs when continuous mental effort and attention is exerted on a particular task which can lead to reduced productivity. The natural environment can aid in recovery from mental fatigue, thus making you more alert and attentive. According to Berto (2005), exposure to nature can help boost a person’s attention after engaging in a strenuous task. When you are present in a natural setting, it provides a kind of ‘soft fascination’ where you are involuntary drawn and attracted to the natural elements (Kaplan, 1995). Therefore, there is no pressure to focus and sustain attention, you are naturally drawn to the stimulus around you which can induce a sense of calmness and tranquillity.

Promotes creativity

Maybe it is worth considering disconnecting from all your gadgets for a while and leaving it at home. Did you know that spending time in nature can enhance your creativity? It has been found that immersion in a natural setting in the absence of any technological devices can help to increase performance on creativity and problem solving tasks (Atchley, Strayer & Atchley, 2012). One reason may be due to the fact that when you are exposed to nature, a part of the brain known as the ‘default mode’ is activated (Atchley et al., 2012). This ‘default mode’ is responsible for cognitive functions such as divergent thinking and problem solving. When exposed to a natural stimulus, the mind may be able to enter a state of contemplation and mind wandering which can activate the ‘default mode’, thus making you rely more on your senses and be more creative. The fact that you are disengaged with your gadgets may also help you to be more aware of your surroundings.

Increases self-esteem

Instead of hitting the gym or doing cardio at home, why not try exercising outdoors for a change? You’ll be surprised how revitalising it can be. Various studies have found that ‘green exercise’ or physical activities such as walking and cycling in a natural environment may help enhance your self-esteem. According to Pretty, Peacock, Sellens and Griffins (2005), green exercise can help to increase your level of self-esteem and lower blood pressure. Exercise alone is beneficial, but imagine how rejuvenating and refreshing it can be to exercise underneath the clear blue sky, inhaling the fresh air and seeing the vast greenery ahead of you. You will also soak in those sunshine goodness which can help you absorb the essential vitamins your body needs while increasing production of endorphin hormones, making you feel good about yourself too!

Living in a fast-paced digital society, we are bound to spend hours in front of laptop screens or browsing our smartphones. However, that should not be an excuse for us to not spend time with nature. Nature can offer many positive effects both to your health and well-being. Through immersing in a natural environment, it can help you to reduce stress, improve attention, promotes creativity as well as enhancing self-esteem. The natural environment can also serve as a form of escapism and offers a sense of being away from your daily stressors giving your mind and body the replenishments it needs. Engross yourself in the beauty of Mother Nature and see how it can work wonders!

References:

  1. Atchley, R. A., Strayer, D. L. & Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLoS ONE, 7(12).
  2. Berto, R. (2005). Exposure to restorative environments helps restore attentional capacity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 249-259.
  3. Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature:  Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182.
  4. Marselle, M. R., Irvine, K. N. & Warber, S. L. (2013). Walking for well-being: Are group walks in certain types of natural environments better for well-being than group walks in urban environments? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10, 5603- 5628.
  5. Pretty, J., Peacock, J., Sellens, M. & Griffin, M. (2005). The mental and physical health outcomes of green exercise. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 15(5), 319-337.
  6. Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M. A. & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 201-230.

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