By: Sydney Levine
I went on a hike in Charlottesville with two of my good friends a little while ago, and as we stood at the summit looking out at the beautiful view, I remember feeling calm, relaxed, and just so happy. It was exactly what we needed after feeling stuck inside day after day, attached to our computer screens. These awestruck moments with nature really seem to give us clarity and an overwhelming feeling of peace and tranquility. My friend then turned to me and said that this is what she calls a biophilic experience. I was intrigued by this word, as I had never heard it before. So, I decided to do some research. It’s no hidden secret that when we get outside and breathe in the fresh air or have those wonderstruck moments with nature that we seem to be in a better mood and become more relaxed. It’s deeper than that, though. There are actually tangible benefits to connecting with nature for our physical and mental well-being and even an entire hypothesis around this phenomenon. The biophilia hypothesis describes an innate tendency, as humans, to affiliate ourselves with nature and lifelike processes (Wilson, 1984). All this really means is that our minds and bodies want to connect with nature because we have the potential to benefit from it.
Nature has restorative tendencies. It has the power to ease anxiety and depression by boosting our moods and even our self-esteem. Spending time in nature and immersing yourself in the scenery can help bring your overactive mind to ease and leave you feeling more calm. Several studies have even shown that being exposed to nature for as little as fifteen minutes can help reduce levels in our cortisol, which is the stress hormone (Williams, 2018). Nature also works to improve cognitive functions such as concentration and creativity (M. G. Berman, J. Jonides, S. Kaplan, Psychological Science, 2008). This is due to nature’s ability to make us feel present and distract us from our everyday responsibilities, even if it is just for a moment. I know what you are thinking. This seems all too simple. It’s too easy to claim that being outside has the power to cure all of our problems. And yes, while this may seem like an aspirational hypothesis, researchers are continuously finding real benefits of nature in regards to our well-being. Nature provides us with a holistic outlet that positively influences our mental and physical states.
With everything currently going on in the world and in our lives, feelings of stress and anxiety have undoubtedly increased. I know that I have personally dealt with increased anxiety recently and I found that connecting with nature has helped to ease these feelings. Although staying home has been necessary, it is important to also find time to step away from our screens and get outside. This can be as simple as enjoying your morning cup of coffee on the porch or going for a walk or run. To get even greater benefits, try pairing nature with exercise. Go for a run, a hike, or a bike ride.
Nature is powerful, so if you can take away just one thing from this, I simply say – go out and enjoy a walk!
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Berman, M.G., Jonides, J., Kaplan, S., 2008. The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature. Psychological Science.. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x
Friedman, L. (2016, April 22). 11 scientific reasons you should be spending more time outside. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/scientific-benefits-of-nature-outdoors-2016-4
Hartig, T., Mang, M., Evans, G.W., 1991. Restorative Effects of Natural Environment Experiences. Environment and Behavior.. doi:10.1177/0013916591231001
Mark, J. (2017, March 02). Get Out of Here: Scientists Examine the Benefits of Forests, Birdsong and Running Water. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/02/books/review/nature-fix-florence-williams.html
Williams, F. (2018). The nature fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.