The modern world acts like it is a mystery why so many people are unhealthy and suffer from depression. We are quick to think that pharmaceuticals and/or a psychologist will help to alleviate people’s life dissatisfaction.
Our long work hours for a continuously devalued currency and culture of self-destructive behavior during free time may not lead to the healthiest of individuals.
Could it be that we’re living so unnaturally that prevents us from thriving the way we’re meant to?
“With global environmental concerns, rapid urban expansion, and mental health disorders at crisis levels, diminished nature contact may not be without consequence to the health of the individual and the planet itself” [source]
In this age, mere nature walks might seem like something quite trivial when it comes to seeking solace for our emotional issues. However research shows that spending time in nature can help heal anxiety and depression.
This makes sense because for more time than not, humanity has been in earth-based tribal societies than we have been in civilizations dominated by global powers.
One of the most important reasons to get outside is because of the dangers of indoor air pollution which is up to 5 times more toxic than outdoor air pollution. Between work and home, people now spend about 90% of their time indoors, and this is quite unnatural. Even more unnatural is the staggering amount of plastic stuff we are surrounded with and various other synthetic chemicals in virtually all the things we use; clothing, blankets, furniture, wall paint, cleaners, personal care products, etc.
This adds up to a lot of particulate matter floating in our air, making us more susceptible to disease, fatigue and depression. The EPA has stated that indoor air quality is one of the top risks to public health.
Japanese studies show that “forest bathing” can lower stress hormone production which in turn strengthens the immune system. This is because stress hormones compromise immunity. It is also said that breathing in beneficial bacteria and plant-derived essential oils from forest air benefits physical and mental health. A study from Nippon Medical school showed a marked increase in antiviral natural killer cells after a day trip in the forest or a couple hours daily over three days. Evergreen trees emit natural chemicals called phytoncide, and researchers have demonstrated a correlation between the amount of this chemical in the air and improvements in immune functioning.
The above may be of particular interest to city dwellers, who have increased activity in the amygdala area of the brain, meaning they have a higher sensitivity to stress.
Other research suggests that those who live near green spaces have higher lifespans and potentially better cognitive function. Children who spend more time in nature seem to have better memory and better ability to focus. Older adults who spend time outdoors have less functional decline.
Nature is also associated with higher boosts in creativity as well as an elevation in the emotions of pleasure and happiness with an increase in tree density.
There are many other interesting associations with nature and well-being which can be read about in this article from Mother Earth News.
Personally, I believe all of this to be mostly true. This information came to me coincidentally at a time when I had decided to make more of an effort to connect with nature by learning to identify plants in my local area. I heard that wild plants were much higher in nutrition than farmed plants (even if they are organic) and so I was gifted with a book on wild edibles.
Naturally, I started going on forest hikes more often to see if I could identify some plants in the book. It made me realize how strange it is to live in the world this whole time and not even know the name of the plants in my home environment. There are so many trees and greenery that I recognize, only visually, but it never occurred to me, to understand why they are helpful or useful or how they contribute to the ecosystem of my local region.
I feel like I’ve missed out on some really important lessons my whole life! We grew up being told that what is real is corporate careers, hollywood movies, pop music, alcohol, parties, and fashion. All of that, it seems ever more clear to me, is just so fake and a distraction from the natural environment. How weird it is to live on the planet, but not know it at all!
To me, developing a sincere interest and desire to connect with nature is like stepping out of the proverbial matrix.
The effect nature-love has had on my attitude towards social drama, fashion trends, or whatever, is similar to that of wine : totally reduced my chances of giving a s*%#.
That is true meditation to me – learning about the natural world you live in, how to live with it, and connecting to your roots.
I don’t, however, think you can just a take a depressed person who is addicted to consumerism, pop culture and just plop them in a lush green scenery a few times a week and their mental health issues will disappear. It probably requires some genuine interest on the part of the person trying to recover, a desire to learn and understand wildlife and how to connect with it.
For me, it’s not enough to just simply stare at plants and just contemplate their beauty to feel better. I need to know something about it for it to become meaningful. Which is why I recommend, if you want to get some mental gratification from nature-connecting, try to get into plant identification.
So this got me thinking about other things as well which may seem a little bit far off to some.
I read somewhere that in ancient societies, which were small and tribal, a direct relationship with the immediate land that your people occupied, was representative of freedom and sovereignty. This is because you must have an understanding of the properties of plants, and intuitively know what season they can be useful for in order to survive. You must know the animals that share the space and when it is appropriate to hunt. All of this means that you are in complete and total control of your own livelihood.
Isn’t it odd that this quality of humanity has virtually disappeared, the freedom associated with knowing how to live in nature surrounding you? For our livelihood, we depend on corporations to feed us. No matter how much money you have and how much purchasing power you have, it doesn’t give you the freedom of knowing how to live on your own.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts.