Most of us spend hours each day in artificial light, working at computers, on our cell phones, in our comfortable air conditioned or heated homes. In our connected world, most of us continuously multi-task. We rush from activity to activity, we simultaneously talk on our phones while we work on the computer, and eat our lunch.
On weekends and holidays, we answer emails on our phones. We are constantly bombarded with technological demands. It is unusual to have a free day or even hour. The majority of Americans do not spend enough time in nature (Case, Mikels-Carrasco, Seng, and Witter, 2019). There is nothing that aids in stress management so much as a day spent in nature, in the woods, the mountain, on the beach. Nature never disappoints. Spending time in nature heals the body and the soul. It reduces blood pressure, lowers heart rate, relaxes muscles, and lowers the stress hormones.
Humans have spent most of their history living in the natural world. Contemporary industrialized societies have created artificial work spaces. Our constant need to be connected to social media has tied to us to technology. Our exhaustion has resulted in many sedentary hours watching our devices, possibly while we consume unhealthy snacks.
These joys and ills of contemporary life combine to increase stress levels to unhealthy levels. Social and cultural change related to an increasing dependence on computers has led to an associated increase in “technostress”. This term first coined in the 1980’s by Brod (1984) focuses on the ways that increase in exposure to technology and long hours spent on the computer has increased people’s stress levels and lowered well-being. It is not surprising that people spend their vacations attempting to reconnect with nature.
A week at the beach, or on a lake, or in the mounts, is healing and restorative. Why do psychologists and physicals not make greater use of this free therapeutic method accessible to everyone? Research tells us that exposure to natural settings helps restore a person to a state of relaxation.
There has been some attention to various ways that nature can “heal”. Forest therapy, for example, called “Shinrin-yoku” in Japan, focuses on engaging the senses and taking in the “forest”. It is a health promotion method that has shown that a natural forest environment can improve well-being.
Studies indicated that simply walking in a forest environment for a 15-minute tended to induce an increased state of physiological relaxation (Song, Ikei, Park, Lee, Kagawa, & Miyazaki, 2018; Tsunetsugu, Park, Ishii, Hirano, Kagawa, and Miyazaki, 2007). In fact, more than 30 years ago, the Japanese government introduced “forest bathing,” encouraging people to go into the countries woods for therapy (Hansen, Jobes, & Tocchini, 2017).
Not everyone has easy access to mountains and lakes, however even for those living in urban spaces can improve their well-being by spending 30 minutes in a park or community garden.
Having regular access to a green space even increases longevity (United States Department of Agriculture, 2018). By contrast, nature deprivation is negatively impacting the health and happiness of people of all ages. The epidemic increase in stress related illnesses, depression, and anxiety is partially associated with our increasing alienation from nature.