For the most part of our lives, we have noticed that everything coming from nature and free of humanly temperaments has been the first priority among the list of options. Think about it, you walk into a supermarket or a grocery store to buy your weekly supply of ration; in the very first aisle, you come across two categories of vegetables and fruits: organically grown and conventionally grown. To ignore the price difference between the two options, organic food would be your instant choice. Similarly, when it comes to medication and treatments, everyone is concerned about how natural the process is.
This, almost instinctive, inclination of humans towards nature shows the deep bond that we share with natural ecosystems. Human health has been, in several ways, linked to nature by countless studies. The term “ecosystem services” has been used to define the myriad of ways that nature helps protect and provide for humans; from food provision and purification of drinking water to stabilization of climate and natural disasters, nature in itself is a protective shell around us.
Nature’s Impact on Mental Health
The WHO defines mental health as an individual’s state of well-being, a realization of their potential, the ability to function normally under the stresses of life. The lack of mental health is an invitation to several complications in one’s memory power and behavior. Meanwhile, the word “nature” is a sum of all the elements of the Earth, taking from its various lands and life forms to its dynamic waters and scape.
As humans, what we interact with, has a direct impact on our mind and body. While nature escape may not be a solution to all forms of problems that lead to mental complications i.e., loneliness, aging, etc. it can certainly provide shelter from the many others that do, such as increased stress, desk-bound lifestyle, and effects of severe urbanization. Some aspects of the conventional lifestyle reduce our contact with nature. These factors include but are not limited to: the constant expansion of the economy, access to education, and job opportunities. Having more than enough or not having access to these elements of urban life can both have their pressures on the human mind and thus begins a struggle of the mind to find a distraction or an escape route. Since the human body has a built-in feature to yearn for what it needs, not paying mind to these escape routes can lead to mental stress and complications.
Science Has a Say Too
Researchers are calling the positive impacts of nature on mental health, “psychological ecosystem services.” Research has made it evident that experiences in nature are impactful in many ways. From the laboratories, we have experiments that show a betterment of emotional feedbacks towards nature pictures and sounds. Fieldwork experiment also backs the claim by observation of improved cognitive and psychological changes among individuals that took a walk in natural and urban ecosystems. Another research relates the better mental health of populations with their nearness to green scape (forests and green fields) and blue scape (oceanic and aquatic environments), gardens and botanical parks, and street trees.
Although the experimental results point towards a short-term improvement, there is no solid evidence of the betterment of mental health for longer terms.
Features at Play
By now, you might have understood the human attraction towards nature while also wondering what features are in play that makes nature an effective antidote to mental dilemmas. These factors are categorized into several types, and some are:
There are numerous qualities of nature that have potential positive feedback on mental health. Features such as size, vastness, and heights of different fields and mountains; diverse compositions, different elements of nature at play together; and arrangement of the space are few to name among several qualities experienced in natural landscapes.
The human body experiences a sudden shift in its senses when one takes flight into nature and these shifts are not always positive. Most of the studies have taken eyesight as the leading sensory feature in experiencing nature, however, being in nature, all the senses come to play. The experience of different sounds, textures, and odors have varying effects on the human mind and body; therefore, these factors are yet to be considered in future studies.
The positive effects of exploring nature on mental health range from reduction of stress and increase in social unity to physical activity and improved memory.
In alignment with these studies, many social development programs are now integrating the green and blue aspects of nature in their designs. With the evident positive impact of natural exposure on mental health, access to natural scape and ecosystems must be made easier to avoid mental health inequity among low-income and less opportune public and the rest of the population.
- Bratman, G. N., Anderson, C. B., Berman, M. G., Cochran, B., de Vries, S., Flanders, J., Folke, C., Frumkin, H., Gross, J. J., Hartig, T., Kahn, P. H., Jr, Kuo, M., Lawler, J. J., Levin, P. S., Lindahl, T., Meyer-Lindenberg, A., Mitchell, R., Ouyang, Z., Roe, J., Scarlett, L., … Daily, G. C. (2019). Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science advances, 5(7), eaax0903. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aax0903