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Why connecting with nature makes us feel good

Why connecting with nature makes us feel good

Wellbeing benefits of nature connection

I’ve been running nature connection for wellbeing sessions in a woodland for nearly 5 years now and the feedback from participants indicates that when we connect with nature it simply just makes them feel good. Furthermore, the positive feelings and relaxation stay around for quite a while after the session has ended. Why is that? Let’s consider, in brief, some of the science.

Attention Restoration Theory

Proposed by Steven and Rachel Kaplan in 1989, this theory focuses on directed and involuntary attention. Directed attention requires mental effort and concentration where the individual has to focus hard in order to process information (which is what we generally do when we’re working). Too much time spent using directed attention is tiring and  can be the cause of mental fatigue. In contrast, involuntary attention  require little effort (these are when we’re engaged with simple, repetitive tasks) and can actually refresh and restore ability for tasks requiring directed attention. Gentle weeding or bramble snipping are good examples of how we engage involuntary attention, or soft attention, in our wellbeing with nature sessions. The mental relaxation that occurs through engaging with soft focus activities helps relax the mind and restore brain capacity for more complex tasks.

The Endorphin effect

It is argued that connecting with nature makes humans feel good due to a shared substance and evolutional commonality with everything else in the world,  When we allow ourselves to relax and luxuriate in the beauty of the natural world we connect with the a primeval essence and endorphins are released, flooding us with a feel-good effect. The realisation of the endorphin effect through nature connection has even attracted the label of a natural spirituality; a religious type of experience without any accompanying labelling.

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Proposed by Edward Wilson in 1984, the biolphilia hypothesis suggests an evolutionary basis to explain the relationship between humans and the natural world, together with the deeply embedded genetic disposition to want to seek out nature connection. In evolutionary terms we humans have existed with nature far, far longer than we have existed in urban environments that distance us from the natural world.

Psycho-Evolutionary Theory

 Back in 1981 Roger Ulrich proposed a theory that the restorative effects of nature occur due to emotional changes that come about through stress reduction. The Psycho-evolutionary theory suggests that natural environments promote stress recovery because they initiate positive emotional responses that then reduce stress. Even viewing pictures of natural scenes has been shown to provoke immediate positive effects on an individual’s body and mind which leads to a reduction in stress.

Good vibrations

When we sense something that feels good we say it has “good vibrations”. There doesn’t need to be a label for why nature connection benefits wellbeing, but it’s interesting to explore some of the different theories. The most important point to remember is that there’s not one method for nature connection that works for everyone. Some people, in fact many people, need to be give a ‘way-in’ or a ‘way-back’ to reconnect with nature, because they don’t know where or how to start.

Sitting contemplating nature does not come easily to most people to start with, which is why being engaged in simple land management tasks can be helpful, encouraging slow, repetitive movements, which in turn effect breathing regulation and a gentle slowing of intrusive thoughts. The good vibrations experience is going to be different for each individual engaging with nature connection and therein lies the power of the exercise. Nature has the power to give us what we need, if we learn how to truly connect.  

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Why people love trees

Why people love trees

How similar are trees and people?

I particularly like an explanation I read recently about why humans have such strong connections with trees, based on the similarities between the two. Both trees and humans have an upright stance and both have the characteristic of a torso and a crown.

Both trees and humans have mobile limbs stemming from a central trunk. The tubular bronchi in human lungs are surprisingly visually similar to the root systems of many trees. As two very different species we and trees could be said to share a number of similarities.

 In my mind there is no doubt that a reciprocal and healing relationship can be developed between people and woodlands through spending regular time there over a period of time.

Passive activities such as Forest Bathing, or immersion in a tree filled place, is one route that can be followed. However, carrying out woodland management tasks is often easier to engage with for some people, delivering wellbeing benefits through the physical effort and mental focus involved.

Carrying out woodland management tasks is often easier to engage with for some people, delivering wellbeing benefits through the physical effort and mental focus involved.

Just the actions of gentle walking, bending and stretching improve physical fitness for those involved in light woodland management tasks and spending time working as part of a group builds a sense of community, with in-built social benefits.

The beneficial relationship between woodlands and humans is bound up in how each cares for the other. It is no coincidence that humans have, over the centuries, looked to trees for medicinal healing purposes but also in pursuit of  more spiritual aspects. concerning deeper levels of connection and learning about oneself.  


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Stress relief through connecting with nature

Stress relief through connecting with nature

One person’s cause of stress is not going to be the same for someone else, but feeling overwhelmed and demotivated are common signals indicating that time-out might be of considerable benefit to your wellbeing.

Now, by time-out I don’t mean a shopping trip, lunch with friends, or throwing yourself into training for an endurance race. I mean time-out to still the mind and the body, to allow the two to properly connect so that you can begin to understand how both are linked when it comes to experiencing stress.

Recognising not just ‘why’ in relation to stress, but alternative ways to deal with it, is key to be able to make small changes that can benefit your physical and mental health and wellbeing.

I recently shared a series of photos on Facebook of autumnal images taken while out on a walk, with a caption that began “While walking around a local lake, taking time to notice…”

I don’t have legions of ‘friends’ on Facebook but the number of ‘Likes’ that post received indicated that it really spoke to people who identified a need within them for ‘comfort’ through connection with nature.

The Biophilia hypothesis,  proposed by Edward Wilson in 1984 suggests that there is an inbuilt pull that humans feel towards nature, because in evolutionary terms we have only recently moved away from nature chasing benefits urbanisation promised to provide.

Without wanting to make this a long post, outlining the history, cause and effect of mankind’s move away from the natural world, suffice to say that Biophilia has been widely written about by other authors since Wilson and there are many studies that appear to support the hypothesis. 

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Nature connection is small doses has been shown to deliver wellbeing benefits that continue to be experienced for some time afterwards. Why not try it out for yourself on one of our wellbeing retreat sessions that are held once a month. Sessions last 3 hours with the objective of providing participants with group and individual activities to promote relaxation and nature connection. A simple vegetarian lunch is provided at the end of the session, to encourage people to enjoy some community time sharing food, fun and friendship.

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I certainly don’t believe that spending time connecting with nature is going to provide a cure-all for mental and/or physical health issues, but I do think that having facility for ‘bathing’ in nature can provide the catalyst for people to get back in touch with themselves through the immersion.

Nature connection activities can help provide focus  that helps deliver feelings of relaxation, being able to ‘let go’ of tension and as someone once said on a feedback form “put my problems aside for a while, giving me time to relax and recover”.

Join us and discover wellbeing with nature benefits that may well improve your life experience.