Human beings were meant to thrive with nature, living in harmony and helping one another reach our fullest potential. And while our journey with vegetation has been impeccably wild, it's important to understand just how nature, specifically greenery, affects us and what happens to our bodies when it is void from our lives - say, when it's buried beneath the snow in winter months. The notion that our relationship with living things, particularly plant life, has an effect on our well-being and emotional state is one with increasing scientific backup. Thankfully, even if we live within a snow-covered landscape, there are still many ways to reap the benefits of green therapy.
This week's Winter Survival Guide covers how to recharge with green therapy and just why biophilia is so important:
This modern world has us chomping at the bit when it comes to technology, living life quickly and always searching for improvements. There is much talk about our constant need to stay connected through the internet and our social networking sources, but these conversations pose the interesting questions of, have we actually done the opposite and isolated ourselves from human contact?
We are a social species, and in order to truly thrive we need to remain social. Keeping social actually makes us happier! The winter months can have us retreating even more than usual, cuddled under a blanket with Netflix on, or huddled before our laptops instead of meeting a friend for coffee. Thanks to these stimulating habits that hold our attention (for entire days sometimes - 10 episode binge sesh anyone?) we can begin to suffer from something called [directed] attention fatigue. DAF is a relatively new ailment as a consequence to our lifestyle. We are focusing too much on a specific source while there are numerous (internal and external) distractions around us.
Like the non-stop attention you give that thing glued to your palm.
As little as 20 minutes in nature, (or a more natural setting) can release some of the side effects of DAF. Side effects include crankiness, restlessness, frustration, forgetfulness, impatience, increased stress and poor judgement. Hmm, sounds like a lot of "winter blues" many of us seem to adopt when the snow comes.
These symptoms are amplified in the winter months thanks to our habit of staying indoors instead of combating the weather and venturing out. By staying indoors for such long periods consistently, we actually hurt our health in a very unnecessary way. Paired with our addiction to modern technology and we've brewed ourselves a terrible recipe for being chronically unwell. Feeling beaten. Like shit. Tired. Unable to focus. And generally not ourselves.
A study conducted at Harvard University by E.O Wilson suggests that humans are programmed to have a connection with nature and animals, or more simply, other living things. I believe this comes from the fact that we are a social species, and these things are very much alive. Wilson's book Biophilia explores this phenomenon and our need to connect with living organisms.
Biophilia is sometimes described as an emotional affiliation with nature. It explores whether there is a bond between human and nature and what the extent of that bond is. The studies show how our emotional and mental states change when we are around nature or natural objects, even becoming more productive when we have access to sunlight throughout the work day.
Due to our modern lifestyles moving us indoors and into cities, more of the world's population now lives in urban areas over rural ones - a first for humanity. This separation from the ecosystems we were formerly a part of has altered them, and arguably threatened many species to the brink of extinction. We are a hungry and greedy species, and unfortunately our need for fast advancement has hindered us in ways we couldn't expect or prepare for. Our ancestors relied heavily on the environment, especially for growing food and shelter. And if we dive even further back, it was imperative to our survival to know which items were poisonous and which were safe.
Imagine worrying about such a thing now? We don't even realize how much we take for granted or no longer need to worry about. We'll just google it... a blessing and a curse.
But don't blame winter. We can reap the benefits of green therapy and forest bathing in the dead cold, middle of winter. Visiting green sites, like conservatories, parks or greenhouses can actually uplift us, especially if we leave our cell phones and laptops at home (or at least in our pocket on silent).
But I get it. This is real life. What if you can't get to these green places in the middle of winter? That's OK. You're not worse for wear. Studies show that having green items (lush plants and herbs) in your home can help stimulate this relaxation and release in your mind, even just touching one can help you. Caring for it. Interacting with it. Even images of these things (scan this board on Pinterest for a quick pick-me-up) can help our brains and bodies to relax - so set your desktop background to something green, natural and soothing for a quick jolt. There's no excuse to neglect foliage, even when Mother Nature is asleep.