The natural healer - understanding our response to the natural world for stress relief
Updated: Mar 10
I think most people know by now that we humans feel better when surrounded by nature. But what most people don’t appreciate is just how much of a difference nature actually makes to our mental well being.
I know for many people who don’t consider themselves “the outdoor type”, that the thought of more nature might be off putting, and likewise the idea of rambling around the hillside is less than appealing, but you will probably be surprised to how much of nature is already present in your surroundings.
Before we begin, I’m going to get you thinking!
What in your current environment is counted as natural? And you can look around and notice your surroundings, or have a look at the list and consider what’s natural in our list below.
What if I told you everything listed above, has been counted as natural by our test readers.
This is because ‘natural’ often means ‘not human’, and without realising it, you probably have more natural elements around you than you think.
It’s important because our brains are actually quite primitive and haven’t evolved much since our “hunter-gatherer” ancestors. Our brains – and therefor our bodies respond positively to nature because subconsciously we consider it our natural state or natural place.
Natural light is essential for humans, it boosts your body's vitamin D storage which helps your body absorb calcium and it promotes bone growth. Studies have also shown better access to natural light helps prevent certain types of cancers, heart disease, depression and weight gain.
Having natural light (even at regular intervals) during the day, helps your body regulate it’s sleep patterns properly, as the light sends signals to your brain about when to be active and when to rest.
Using light to improve your well being is actually easy to do! The ideal time to get a burst of light is first thing in the morning so you are sending your brain the signal to be active.
If you struggle during dark winters consider a sunrise mimicking alarm clock to fulfil the same experience.
When it comes to the evening, make sure artificial lights go dim, or off, at least 2 hours before you plan to go to bed, to send your brain the wind down signals.
(Most smart phones and devices feature a blue light filter, helping dim screen in the evening).
Aside from natural light, or brains respond positively to landscapes & open views which are often the most important & popular environment for people to feel calm and relaxed in.
It’s important because, as mentioned above, our brains are fairly primitive, and want to feel comfortable in an environment where it is open enough to see danger coming, but provides some cover for hiding in.
Having a look at the pictures below, which do you feel most drawn to, or imagine would be most beneficial for relaxing in?
Did your answers correspond with the information above?
What I find fascinating is that our brains, (and our eyes) are actually designed to notice fractals in nature. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales.
For instance: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, etc.
Fractals are naturally repeating patterns, which are also found along the top of many landscapes, such as treetops, skylines, waves and mountains in the distance.
Because fractals are naturally occurring and repetitive, it sends signals to the brain of familiarity which also links to feelings of safety and comfort, another good reason to surround yourself with nature of some sort, to give your brain the message of comfort it needs to return to a place of well being.
That doesn’t mean you always have to find it outside, in fact this article was designed to give you ideas on how to bring the outside back inside, or at least into your life a little more to help reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
Having focal points or naturally repeating patterns around you will help you feel calmer and more secure within yourself, so for those regularly stressed, anxious or worried, have a think about where and how you can incorporate this into you’re daily routine or environment.
Would it mean a quick 10 minute walk on a lunch break? Or perhaps a house plant? Or more time sitting at a window? Or pictures that inspire you?
Interestingly fractals can also be found in sounds of nature. Consider waves on a beach, garden birds singing or crickets chirping.
Try having a listen to this beach now and decide for yourself if the fractal waves are calming or not.
And as before, consider not only what you find pleasant, but how can you welcome it more into your life.
When researching fractals in nature, and the importance of open air and light, it really came as no surprise to me that we are designed to connect with nature.
Teaching Meditation for those struggling with stress and anxiety has shown me just how much we benefit from returning to nature and a simpler environment, because it's where people are most keen to visit in their own imagination.
Please remember, I’m also a mum of 3, who works, studies and has to manage a family of 5, so I do know how pressured life can become and the amount of stress we are normally under, so it’s not always easy to whisk ourselves away for a day in the country, or a week on a beach in the sun shine.
I do know however, we have ways to recreate these experiences on a small scale. Little changes, improvements and tweaks here and there can help send positive signals to our brain which can dramatically improve our emotional well being, and believe me this article certainly doesn’t cover it all!
If you can introduce more natural light, sights, sounds and smells into every day life, you will feel better physically and mentally. It takes mere minutes to meditate on the sound of the waves, or imagining yourself in a place you enjoy being to help lower stress levels, lower raised blood pressure and refresh your thinking.
At the core of any mindfulness practice, is awareness. So if you're lucky enough to find yourself in a calming place for even a moment, take the time to be really present with your surroundings, breathing in every sound, sight, sensation and positive feeling.
For more information on anchoring positive states remember to read our positive anchor blog: Teach your mind to give you a positivity boost!
My best advice, is get creative and don’t give up if you can’t make things happen quickly or don’t feel the benefits right away, and give yourself a chance to naturally improve your mental and physical well being using what's around you already.
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