Our Innate Connection With and Need For Nature

Each of the world’s leading religions believe in a relationship between humans and nature. In CNN’s 2008 article “All About: Religion and the environment,” Rachel Oliver breaks it down:

In Christianity, it is believed that humans are proprietors and stewards of the Earth—not just benefiting from the Earth but tasked with the responsibility of caring for it. In Judaism, it is also believed that humans are to benefit from and care for the Earth; however, the Jewish faith does not believe that humans inherited the Earth but are more managers of it. In Islam, like Judaism, it is believed that humans are managers and stewards of the Earth, but Islam also believes that humans should not only care for the Earth for their current benefit but for the benefit of all future generations. In Hinduism, it is believed that humans are to find fulfillment in spiritual happiness rather than material gain, so humans are to not use nature’s resources at a greater rate than they can be replenished, leaving nature’s checks and balances completely undisturbed. In Buddhism, it is believed that humans and the rest of nature are equal, that a human’s experience (or benefit) is not more important than that of a cow or a plant.

All other Abrahamic religions and Pagan religions have a belief regarding the relationship between humans and nature. Even non-religious views, such as humanism and atheism, discuss a human responsibility to care for the Earth so that humans can continue to benefit from it.

It’s clear that we have a natural draw to nature and its preservation. We benefit from nature’s resources (food, fuel, shelter, entertainment, etc.), and—whether it’s from a religious, moral, or just a selfish viewpoint—we want to make sure we can continue to benefit from them. So, when you disconnect from nature, you are disconnecting from something you are naturally drawn to and in need of. More and more people are moving into urban settings. In fact, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. City dwelling inevitably leads to a disconnection from nature, and this disconnection from a natural need and desire can have negative mental, emotional, and physiological effects. But spending time in nature can help alleviate those negative effects caused by urban living.

Experiencing nature can boost self-esteem and mood.

In the article “Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature,” the author Rob Jordan notes, compared to those living in rural areas, those living in cities have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders. As city dwelling increases, so does the number affected by mental disorders. The Stanford-led study covered in Jordan’s article found that a 90-minute walk in nature resulted in a drastic decrease in rumination, which is the reflection and focus on negative, self-relational emotions. This finding demonstrates the positive impact an experience in nature can have on one’s self-esteem and emotions.

Interacting with nature can relieve mental fatigue and improve working memory.

Exposure to nature has been associated with recovery from mental fatigue. In a study published in the Journal of Affect Disorders, researchers state that interacting with nature that contains fascinating stimuli such as sunsets and mountaintop views, require involuntary attention, which allows directed-attention mechanisms, those that require cognitive control such as office work and problem solving, a chance to recover. Also, the study showed that the reduction in rumination as a result from exposure to nature leads to an improvement in short-term/working memory, especially for those who suffer from major depressive disorder.

Exposure to nature can relieve mental and physical responses to stress.

In a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research, researchers found those with a forest view through their workplace windows had higher job satisfaction and lower job stress than those without a forest view.

In addition to relief in feelings of stress, exposure to nature has been linked to relief in the physical responses to stress. In a study published in the Japanese Journal of Hygiene, researchers found that those who sat in a forest, compared with those who sat in urban settings, had a decrease in cortisol (stress hormone) level, in sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) activity, in systolic blood pressure (which when increased can lead to heart attack or stroke), and in heart rate. This “forest therapy” also resulted in a 55% increase in parasympathetic nerve activity which indicates a relaxed state.

Nature trips boost your immune system.

Natural Killer (NK) cells are a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system. They play a major role in fighting tumors and viral infections. A study published in the journal Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found a 3-day trip in the forest increased NK activity and the NK activity remained elevated for 30 days following the forest experience.

Time in nature can boost creativity.

Urban environments are flooded with technology that numbs the brain, shutting down creativity. In a study published in the journal PLOS One, the authors state that recent research has shown there are cognitive costs to constant exposure to technology-rich urban environments. The study showed when subjects spent four days in nature without technology, they were able to access a wide range of cognitive resources, allowing them to engage in tasks that required creativity and complex convergent problem solving.

Experiencing the awe in nature promotes altruism.

In the Business Insider article “Psychologists: Awesomeness Is Good For You,” the author Gus Lubin discusses a study published in Psychological Science and states, the study concludes that the experience of awe can cause people to behave more altruistically, having a selfless concern for others’ wellbeing. The two things required to experience awe are perceptual vastness and the feeling that you need to revise the way you think in order to understand the perceptually vast stimuli. The experiences that can be found in nature can more often lead you to experience these two things that stimulate awe.

Embrace your viewpoint on your relational position with nature, and reap the mental, emotional, and physical benefits our Earth has to offer. An outdoor experience has only gains for you.

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