Stressed in the city? Being in nature reduces anxiety
Urban living can feel like a continuous assault on the senses. Noise, pollution, crowds, covert and overt aggression are often part of daily life. No wonder then that we can feel on edge. Living in high-tempo, high-stress environments can be a trigger for anxiety as we either fight back or want to retreat from them.
There are lots of good techniques to help you with anxiety of course, including counselling, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, Qi Gong, exercise as well as others. But the focus of this article is about something you might feel intuitively; that being in nature is a powerful reliever of stress, anxiety and depression too.
If you breathe a sigh of relief when you get in touch with nature, then you may know this already. However, there’s an increasing body of research which confirms and reinforces how being in nature can be really beneficial for both our mental health as well as our physical well-being.
There are three areas that being in nature can be particularly helpful with:
- Attention restoration. In our frenetic world it’s hard to stay focused or present with so many distractions around. Just seeing how many people walk around with their heads down looking at phones, tells the story. Being in nature helps restore attention. We become aware of what’s around; stop to take it in and through doing so, come back to ourselves.
- Biophilia. In recent decades, with the immense pace of change and technological development, we have become increasingly removed from our roots. The simple truth is that we are part of nature. We are living organisms on a living planet of fellow organisms, in nature. Coming back to our origins by participating in nature can bring a powerful feeling of home-coming and connection with our ancestry.
- Psycho-physiological stress theory. Simply put, when we look at an area in nature, our heart rate and blood pressure drop. For example, there have been well-reported studies showing the reduction in stress levels of students in exam situations facing either natural views or man made ones. It should be no great surprise that those who had natural views recorded faster decreases in heart rate and blood pressure as a consequence.
So that’s about taking care of yourself with the help of nature. What about counselling? Does it have a role to play in nature?
There are increasing opportunities for counselling and mental health work outdoors. For example a pioneering Green Care project working with personality disorders outdoors has recently won an award for their pioneering work (you can read more about this here: http://sustainablehealthcare.org.uk/mental-health-susnet/news/2014/11/rcpsych-sustainability-award-2014-goes).
Some counsellors also work one-to-one outdoors. The power of being in nature, in a relationship simultaneously with both a therapist and nature can bring up powerful experiences. With the right support and boundaries it can take people deeper into their feelings and more quickly than might happen in a counselling room. Nature is also full of metaphors and symbols that can be used as a way of mirroring or bringing to life the inner emotional and physical landscape.
Whether it’s self-care or counselling in nature that interests you, why not notice what happens next time you are in a green space, near water, on the hills or in a wood. How does your body respond? How do you feel? As you notice what's happening, you might also reflect on how you are benefitting from the healing power of nature.
Wilson EO (1984) Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Kaplan R and Kaplan S (1995) The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. Ann Arbor, MI:
Ulrich in Kaplan S. The restorative effects of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology,15,169-182
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