The human–nature connection is profound. It’s deeply entrenched in us, whether you believe, (or feel) like you are part of nature or not. Many of the words we use today, such as anxious, tired, depressed, bored, demotivated, unproductive, or stressed can be symptoms of a disconnection from nature. This article explores why connection with nature is crucial for mental health.
The absence of nature in our lives is as vast as nature itself
We’re all SO busy. We are addicted to distraction. Every free moment is filled with something, and we can’t find the time for ourselves, for true solitude or relaxation. We can’t stop scrolling, emailing, watching videos, listening to podcasts. We can’t be alone with our thoughts, with silence.
This perpetual busyness and endless distraction is draining. We are always on, always connected, always stimulated, and always using energy, even when we’re not online. It’s creating a general malaise (‘malaise’ being the perfect word to describe a general feeling of discontent, unease, or discomfort – without clear cause) that is increasingly affecting us and weighing us down as a society.
How often do you walk in nature, swim in the ocean, or climb a tree? Even children are glued to their tablets, watching shows and playing games instead of playing outdoors or simply watching the greatest show of all – the majesty and splendour of nature.
Why the human–nature connection is vital
I consulted with a psychic once and I’ll never forget one thing she told me. She said that I need to be in nature. More than other people. I don’t know if that’s true, because we all need to be in nature, more often than we realise.
But at the time I was working in an advertising agency in Dubai, and I wasn’t always able to go to the ocean, to the desert, to the mountains. However, I did notice the absence of the abundant green spaces I’d always taken for granted in South Africa and I felt that something was lacking in the man-made, built environment I found myself in.
We intuitively know that being in nature is good for you, but how often do you consciously try to be outdoors? After hearing these words, I made an effort to spend time in the desert, marvelling at the stars or the life eking out its survival, or dune-bashing or clambering over wadis to find those elusive desert oases. I’d eat lunch outside of the office complex and gaze at a water fountain and the birds that would playfully dip themselves in it. Sometimes I’d get my best ideas out there.
The same psychic also told me that she’d consulted with my ‘spirit guides’ and my path was to work in nature, guiding people or teaching, helping others connect with nature. I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.
I didn’t know much about trees or plants – my sole skill was writing. Fast forward to now and I teach underprivileged adults and kids about growing food, sustainability and connecting with nature. And here I am writing an article about it. So maybe she wasn’t that far off.
The benefits of nature
For many of the people I work with, just sitting still is a luxury. Their daily existence is fraught with worry about matters that concern their very survival. Yet, I’ve seen firsthand that those who work in community gardens, grow in containers or even vertically on walls have a deeper sense of purpose and connection with nature.
This has been linked to reduced depression and a positive impact on a range of mental illnesses (and overall food security). Patients at the market garden of a psychiatric hospital I work with are far more likely to recover and rehabilitate – and many have found jobs in the emerging green economy.
A study found that the poorest people in the world were happier than their wealthier compatriots – and this was attributed to a sense of community, a strong family connection and an appreciation of the beauty of nature.
Many more studies confirm that immersion in nature helps your blood pressure drop, slows your heart rate, reduces stress hormone levels, contributes to better sleep, reduced depression, and increased creativity. It can even lead to kinder, less aggressive behaviour patterns. In Japan, guided forest immersions known as shinrin-yoku or forest bathing are prescribed therapy.
Blue-footed booby success formula: How to get more human–nature connection
- Grow something, even if it’s just an indoor plant or herb. Really nurture your little piece of nature.
- Get outside, even if it’s just to sit under a tree. Take the time to really look at a tree and think about its existence (give it a hug if you really want to 😊.
- Plan an outdoor activity, even if it’s just gazing at the ocean, a forest or a mountain.
Just TWO hours in nature a week (no less) was enough for participants in a recent study to report better health and wellbeing than those who spent less or no time in nature. For the couch potato among us, you don’t even need to exercise to get these benefits.
The human-nature connection creates harmony
A 2018 report collating 140 studies around the world found that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces levels of salivary cortisol — a physiological marker of stress” — not to mention its effect on reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Studies show that the human–nature connection has more benefits than just happiness, health and wellbeing. Even just being around birdlife (an indicator of a healthy environment) has a greater impact on life satisfaction and wellbeing than income.
Another UK-based study found that exposure to nature can reduce crime and aggression… and even help bring communities together.
If just two hours in nature per week can help, you don’t need to plan a hiking trip or weekend getaway. Just being in nature (see above success formula for tips on how to do that) you’re already taking a huge step towards greater health and contentment. So, go ahead and be the booby you were born to be. Get outdoors and drink in your nature elixir – improving the human-nature connection doesn’t cost you a cent.
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Lastly, remember to join the blue-foot flock! We’re always looking for nature lovers and dreamers like you to be part of our little clan. Blue-footed, left-handed, foot stompers and anything in between.