“Nature employs the mind without fatigue and yet enlivens it. Tranquilizes it and enlivens it. And thus, through the influences of the mind over body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”Frederick Law Olmstead
One of my patients, Mr S, was a regular at my medical practice. Afflicted with chronic heart disease and recently widowed, life wasn’t easy for him.
Yet, he invariably turned up for his check-ups with a big smile on his face and would regale me with his most recent golfing exploits.
Golf had become his saving grace.
He loved being outside, spending many hours teeing off, getting stuck in the rough and practising his strokes. He played several times a week, preferring whenever possible to do the full 18 holes, but when time was a constraint, the lesser 9.
He said it did him good.
He was doing something he loved.
He was in good company.
He could take his time to enjoy being outside in a beautiful environment.
He played whatever the weather.
Because it made him happy.
He told me it was the one thing that kept him going, stopped him from being lonely and gave him a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
The research around the healing power of nature is conclusive.
It helps to lower stress (and blood pressure) It strengthens the immune system keeping us healthier, and the release of all those feel-good hormones keeps us happier too.
With so many of us spending much of our days inside, it’s easy to overlook just how important getting out into the big wide world is for us.
Why Covid served as a good reminder
Living through a time of a global pandemic, geopolitical unrest and economic uncertainty impacted us all, heightening stress levels and many people reported increased psychological distress.
But it was also a time when nature was utilised for the greater good.
We took advantage of the “freedom” bestowed allowing us to get out of the house for an hour each day, ostensibly to exercise.
But did you, like me, see this as an opportunity to embrace being outside, and just inhale the fresh air?
Did you spend time looking up around you, looking at the trees? Did you sit on a park bench, listening to the birdsong, or the sound of the waves crashing on the beach?
Did you do this to help keep you calm and able to keep functioning for one more day?
Even when you can’t be in a place of natural outstanding beauty, there is much to be gained from being in your backyard, finding a sunny spot near a window or walking around your local park.
What we’ve lost sight of
Our concrete jungles have diminished our connection to the healing power of nature.
Studies have shown how:
Being able to look out onto greenery and trees through a hospital window, shortened recovery time and a reduction in the amount of painkilling medication needed.
Watching a nature doco while at the dentist or undergoing a medical procedure has a calming effect and alleviates pain.
Those living in aged care, able to get out into a garden or undertake some form of “gardening activity”, feel better and are less depressed.
Forest therapy or spending time in the woods lowers stress levels and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system taking you out of the ‘flight or fight’ modality.
Greening up our workplace environments
There was a time when artificial plants and flowers were all the rage. Some of them live on, undusted and ignored in many forgotten office corners.
While the real thing is always the best option, there is benefit from having images of greenery around you.
Plus, having some form of potted greenery on your desk or in the office can serve to protect you from attention deficit. You know, when you’ve spent far too long in front of your computer screen and it’s getting harder to stay focused or take in the information…
Taking 30 seconds to break that focus, to look out of the window onto a green space or to stare intently at your potted cactus on your desk is all that’s needed to replenish your mental energy for the next bout of focused work.
Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but isn’t that a better way to boost productivity and creativity and reduce your stress, than trying to push on through by downing your sixth cup of coffee?
And it works.
But let’s take this a step further. There are many ways you can green up your office space.
Like, living walls, rooftop gardens and low-maintenance desk top friendly succulents or cacti that will forgive you for forgetting to water them. There are plants suitable for low light, like spider plants. And according to NASA, the snake plant is the best for air purification. Bonus!
Next week, I’m taking a walk on the wild side, running an online masterclass session about what nature can teach us about healing and why it’s an important component for great office design.
You can register here and if you can’t make it to the live session, a replay will be made available to all registrants.
Going green has never been more important for our health and wellbeing.
How has nature helped you stay fit and well?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, trainer and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available for purchase.
If psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.
Thank you Jenny for this lovely post. When I worked in a stressful office job I used to grow ivy up my office wall, but now I have a dream job looking after the roses on a working farm operated by a disability support service provider. This provides me with, exercise, sunshine, fresh air, mental stimulation, aromatherapy , an outlet for creativity, social interaction with clients, staff and visitors, a sense of purpose, and as I am fondly known as ‘the rose lady’ a sense of identity, and lots of attention from the goats and sheep who eat all the rose prunings, and I have never been fitter, healthier or happier.