Many of those with deadlines, busy schedules and high expectations find it difficult to unwind at the end of the day. This is when people turn to relaxation tools such as meditation, but meditation may be a real struggle for the active individual—clearing the mind of worries and responsibilities can seem impossible.
If you find meditation difficult, try paying attention to the clarity of thought provided by nature instead. Nature provides a way to escape from the clutter of life, offering a new way of thinking from moment to moment. Should you step on that rock? Was that a deer? As naturalist John Muir put it, “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares drop off like autumn leaves.” Here are some of the key psychological benefits provided by nature.
Increased attention span in children
One fascinating study of school aptitude tests showed that green space leads to a much higher attention span. The study primarily focused on children raised in urban environments, and the researchers found that those children who had access to green space (even if it was just one tree near an apartment) were more likely to pay attention in school than children who did not have this type of access to nature.
Perhaps nature has the same calming presence for children that it provides for adults. Children can look at the tree, play in the tree, and witness what lives in the tree while living in the moment. On the other hand, children without access to green space may not have the opportunity to just stop and look around. While children can stop and consider their surroundings in urban environments, the constant flow of hectic stimuli is dramatically different from the safe haven of nature.
The American Psychological Association discusses the research of Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, PhDs. These psychologists decided to create a study from their own work experiences, proving that access to even a view of nature leads to greater job satisfaction.
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There is actually a new movement in psychology called Restorative Environment, which the Kaplans created to provide solutions for the job satisfaction problems highlighted by their findings. Things like windows that overlook trees or even grass space instead of other buildings lead to a great increase in daily job satisfaction—and, therefore, job performance.
Anger can manifest in many different forms. Some people live in denial of their anger and eventually explode, while other people displace their anger and take their frustrations out on those around them. It’s normal to experience anger, but you can have a more peaceful life if you choose to express that emotion in a productive way.
Nature helps with this challenge. Staying within the Restorative Environments movement, Terry A. Hartig (PhD, MPH) conducted a study showing how adults functioned after a forty minute nature walk. The study focused on an increase in productivity through nature, but it also led to the conclusion that levels of anger and frustration dramatically decreased in those who took a walk. In many instances, people no longer felt anger at all.
Why is this? Why do trees have such a relaxing effect upon even the least outdoorsy person? One hypothesis might consider what trees have provided humans throughout history. Fr one thing, they have offered safety from predators. Although there are not many predators out there now, mountain lions and bears can still be a problem in certain parts of the world. In addition, the urban landscape in which many people reside may have its own form of predators. While a mountain lion may not wander around New York’s Rockefeller Plaza anytime soon, there are certainly threatening people who can instill fear. Perhaps trees still represent a place of refuge.
Further, trees provided shelter for our ancestors, and trees still protect us from the rain in urban environments as well. In the midst of a hectic workday, perhaps it is comforting to know that another world exists outside and is moving at a much slower pace.
Clay, Rebecca. American Psychological Association. Green is Good for You. http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr01/greengood.aspx
Sierra Club. ohn Muir Exhibit. http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/favorite_quotations.aspx