There was once a time when one could rely solely on the positions of the stars for directions; or by a mere glance at waves within sight, tell how charterable more distant waters would be; or know for certain that rain would bless cropseven on a sunny day. That was the kind of intuitive relationship human beings had with nature. But with the boom of commerce and the rise of technological advancements, we seem to have become distracted and those skills are now rare in most parts of the world. But we did not ignore nature or take it for granted altogether.We, as a race, focused a lot of our energies on the sciences and have made huge strides in learning about our Earth. Yet, countless mysteries still remain either inadequately grasped or unsolved.

According to Philip Ball’s article, Physics of Life: The Dawn of Quantum Biology[1], there has been significant progress in learning how birds are able to navigate around the world using the earth’s magnetic field or how exactly it is that plants, bacteria, and algae are able to photosynthesize[2]. Understanding things like this could have great implicationsto be able to store solar energy more efficiently, for instance. By these two instances alone, we are able to deduce that there is a direct bond between the planet and all its living things. 

Nature Is in Our DNA

Throughout our history as humans, our relationship with nature has been pretty much one-sided, as depicted in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree[3]. And for the most part, that is how it was always meant to work. Our planet, after all, has had much more to give us compared to what we ever had to offer it.

But with the way that 2020 is unfolding, we are reminded that the Earth can also take things away from us. We’ve been experiencing that with Australia’s recent wildfire[4], East Africa’s locust swarms[5] of biblical proportions, several volcanic activities around the world (including the Philippines’ very own Taal[6]), and now, the global pandemic CoVid-19[7] which is completely redefining the way we live.

Still, we cannot deny the innate connection that human beings have with nature. Before all this, we would use a fair amount of our long weekends and vacation leaves on beach trips, mountain hikes, and “glamping” or at the very least, spend many an hour thinking about them. This connection is also partly the reason we have potted plants within the confines of closed office spaces; or why there’s something so reinvigorating about the smell of actual fresh air.

Whether we know it or not, our need for nature is in our bones and is more essential than we think.

Natural Healing

For city folk, natural settings seem to be getting smaller and scarcer due to the seemingly endless urbanization of business centers, compelling either cities, offices, or individuals to simulate more “natural” environments which, despite all good intentions, may not nearly be enough to compensate for the health benefits that we’re actually missing out on.

“Those who live in cities have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders compared to people in rural areas” according to Bill Frist’s article, The Science Behind How Nature Affects Your Health[8].

Over recent decades, there have been more and more studies supporting the adverse effects of Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD)[9], a term coined by journalist Richard Louv[10]. While NDD is not yet recognized as a formal diagnosis in the medical industry, it is an idea that is fueled by the supposed link[11] that exists between natural environments and human health. Various research suggests that one’s amount of exposure to nature has noticeable effects on behavioral, cognitive, social, and physical human conditions. 

The study Nature Contact and Human Health: A Research Agenda[12] goes into detail about the learnings taken from multiple authors who have tried to understand the connection between nature and human health. Although, generally, much more accurate research and experiments need to be done, there is still evidence that strongly associates nature with our health. One experiment that involved the comparison between two types of neighborhoods showed that the residents who were surrounded by more greeneries were able to manage stressful life events better than those with less exposure to nature. That demonstration, alongside many others mentioned in the study, implies that the exposure to nature has contributory effects in reducing stress, depression, anxiety, aggression, and ADHD; providing better sleep and improving moods; increasing social connectedness; improving child development; lowering blood pressure and sugar levels; and helping with pain management and post-surgery recovery.

All these observations have given birth to concepts like NDD and sparked the need to expose oneself to more natural environments (i.e. forest bathing[13]), participate in green exercises[14], and generally have a deeper appreciation for nature as a whole.

Opportunity Amidst the Pandemic

These are strange times we live in now and our need for nature lies at the center of itfrom thinking of what essential food to get on our sparse grocery trips to itching to go out for a run so that we can breathe in and enjoy the sunlight, but can’t. 

Life in the time of this coronavirus is, in many forms, a traumatic experience. And we seem to be dealing with it in our own ways. People are either left alone with themselves or have lost all means of escape. Some lock themselves up in their room, while others scour to keep as busy as possible to ward off cabin fever[15]; some might view this as an extended vacation, while others search for more mobile ways of earning money. 

It is important to acknowledge the possibility that this is nature’s way of telling us to slow down. Amidst the arduous world war against CoVid-19, those of us at home are presented with the unique opportunity to rethink the way that we have been living—what we need to do differently from now on, how strong our immune systems have to be, and how much better we have to take care of ourselves and of each other. Now is a time for self-improvement, self-care, and self-healing.

If we didn’t give ourselves enough nature contact before this ECQ, it is a lot more challenging to do so now. There are, however, still ways we can simulate or experience nature: 

Cooking Therapy. The kitchen, while aesthetically opposite from a lush garden, still exposes you to more natural things—vegetables, fruits, meats, and water. Evidenced by social media, many people have been storming their pantries to bake cookies, make bread, and learn new dishes. There are psychological benefits[16] to doing something so primal like cooking. In cooking meals, you can achieve a sense of fulfillment, create stronger family bonds, receive positive validation from others, and use it as a form of self-therapy[17]

Natural Consumption. These days, health has become the top priority. And since we need to make our runs to the market count, this is an opportunity to prioritize fresher and more nutritional foods like veggies over, say, junk food. Choosing more natural solutions[18] over artificial ones will have positive effects on your health. One great example of this is the opportunity to go on the “rainbow diet”[19], which groups fruits and vegetables with their corresponding health benefits by colorfor instance, red-colored produce usually contains nutrients that promote a healthier heart, better skin, and protection from cancer; while white ones are better for immune systems, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar

Simulated Nature. Even if we wanted to surround ourselves in nature, going out of town won’t be possible as long as the ECQ is still in effect. However, research[20] suggests that simulating natural environments, like listening to “nature sounds”, may have restorative results, and reduce stress and the feeling of “fight-or-flight”[21]

Rest. You may not have noticed it but that the skies are bluer than they’ve been in decades, forests are healing, and an estimated 60 million sea turtle eggs were uninterruptedly laid in India’s beaches. Whatever the reason is for this pandemic, our Earth is getting some much-needed rest. And for those of us that can, maybe it’s time we do the same. Maybe now is the time to restore the fundamental balance[22] between our mental, physical, and spiritual health through deeper forms of meditation and mindfulness. Maybe it is during this time of social distancing that we must listen more closely to how connected we are to everything and everyone around us, and how much more connected we should be. And maybe then can we go back to a more nurturing relationship with nature. 

 

Sources:

[1] Ball, P. Physics of life: The dawn of quantum biology. Nature 474, 272–274 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/474272a

[2] Vidyasagar, A. What Is Photosynthesis. Live Science. October 15, 2018. https://www.livescience.com/51720-photosynthesis.html 

[3] Silverstein, S. The Giving Tree. 1964. https://www.slideshare.net/wicaksana/the-giving-tree-3293089 

[4] Australia Fires: A Visual Guide to the Bushfire Crisis. BBC News. 31 January 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-50951043 

[5] Colarossi, N. Swarms of locusts forced Somalia to declare a national emergency. Business Insider. Feb 29, 2020. https://www.businessinsider.com/desert-locust-plague-devastates-africa-photos-history-2020-2 

[6] Arceo, A. Alert Level 4 stays as Taal Volcano unrest enters 2nd week. Rappler. January 20, 2020. https://www.rappler.com/nation/249732-phivolcs-advisory-taal-volcano-status-january-20-2020 

[7] Coronavirus. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1 

[8] Frist, B. The Science Behind How Nature Affects Your Health. June 15, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrist/2017/06/15/the-science-behind-how-nature-affects-your-health/#1c3ada515aeb 

[9] The Truth is Out About Nature Deficit Disorder. Sekaya. https://www.sekaya.com.ph/nature-deficit-disorder/the-truth-is-out-about-nature-deficit-disorder/ 

[10] Louv, R. No More “Nature-Deficit Disorder”. Psychology Today. January 28, 2009. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/people-in-nature/200901/no-more-nature-deficit-disorder 

[11] Institute of Medicine. Health and the Environment in the Southeastern United States: Rebuilding Unity: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 2002. https://www.nap.edu/read/10535/chapter/6 

[12] Frumkin et al. Nature Contact and Human Health: A Research Agenda. July 31, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP1663 

[13] Li, Q. ‘Forest Bathing’ Is Great for Your Health. Time. May 1, 2018. https://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/ 

[14] Jo Barton, Jules Pretty. What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2010, 44, 10, 3947-3955. March 25, 2010. https://doi.org/10.1021/es903183r 

[15] Fritscher, L. Cabin Fever Symptoms and Coping Skills. Very Well Mind. April 23, 2020. https://www.verywellmind.com/cabin-fever-fear-of-isolation-2671734 

[16] Guerra, J. Cooking For Others Has Psychological Benefits, So It’s Time To Stop Being Selfish In The Kitchen. Elite Daily. July 20, 2017. https://www.elitedaily.com/wellness/6-reasons-cook-someone-else-instead-change/2022072 

[17] Taylor, J. The Therapy We Do on a Weekly Basis. Coveteur. https://coveteur.com/2016/12/15/cooking-therapy-de-stress-help/ 

[18] Sekaya Botanic Infusion Products. https://www.sekaya.com.ph/products/ 

[19] Honeycutt, E. Eating The Rainbow: Why Eating a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables Is Important for Optimal Health. Food Revolution Network. December 8, 2017. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/eating-the-rainbow-health-benefits/ 

[20] MacMillan, A. Why Nature Sounds Help You Relax, According to Science. Health. April 5, 2017. https://www.health.com/condition/stress/why-nature-sounds-are-relaxing 

[21] Ankrom, S. Fight or Flight Theory of Panic Disorder. Very Well Mind. November 9, 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-fight-or-flight-theory-of-panic-disorder-2583916 

[22] Kresser, C. Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic State: How Stress Affects Your Health. May 17, 2019. https://chriskresser.com/sympathetic-vs-parasympathetic-state-how-stress-affects-your-health/ 

 

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