The health benefits of nature have been acknowledged in records dating back to ancient civilisations such as Egypt and China. There are numerous theories postulated to explain this connection, including the role of nature in human evolution as well as the relationship between nature and stress reduction, self-regulation and restoration.
Studies conducted over the last two decades continue to demonstrate the strong connection between nature and well-being, for example:
· Contact with ‘blue space’ (living near the ocean) is associated with reduced levels of psychological distress (Nutsford et al, 2016).
· Views of nature (ie - mountains, oceans, waterfalls, star filled skies) create feelings of wonderment and awe, altering our experience of time and increasing feelings of unity, connection, patience, and a desire to help others (Rudd, Aaker & Vohs, 2012).
Viewing or engaging in nature can be considered a sensory activity as it uses multiple sensory systems, including sight, sound, smell, touch and movement. Intentional contact with nature to change how we feel (for example, sitting under a tree in the park to help feel more at ease or digging in your garden to relax) are examples of sensory modulation at work.
While active participation and engagement in nature (ie- visits to gardens, nature trail walks, going to the beach) is the ideal way to foster this wellbeing, it is not always possible for all people at all times. However, contact with aspects or representations of nature still promote positive changes in wellbeing and functioning. For example, studies have shown that even sensory components (ie- views, sounds, smells) of nature can improve recovery from surgery, reduce pain levels and increase work performance (Frumkin, 2001).
Some suggestions to incorporate aspects of nature in our day to day lives:
1. Have a nature zone or space at homes by creating a garden or with pot plants or indoor plants.
2. Indoor plants in offices and on desks or window sills.
3. Pictures or coffee table books of awe-inspiring views of nature
4. Nature screensaver on computer or tablet, or photos on a smart phone
5. Listening to sounds of nature (birds, ocean waves, rainforest)
6. Smells of nature (lavender, herbs, eucalyptus leaves)
7. Aquarium with fish in the waiting room of a clinic or office
For more information on sensory modulation, sensory environments and sensory spaces, see ‘The Sensory Modulation Resource Manual’ via amazon.com or bookstores.
Frumkin, M (2001). Beyond Toxicity: Human health and the natural environment. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 20(3): 234-240.
Nutsford, D; Pearson, A; Kingham, S & Reitma, F (2016). Residential exposure to visible blue space (but not green space) associated with lower psychological distress in a capital city. Health and Place, 39(5): 70-78.
Rudd, M; Vohs, K & Aaker, J (2012). Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1130-1136.
O’Sullivan, J; Fitzgibbon, C;(2018) Sensory Modulation Resource Manual.