We live in a world full of stressors, attention grabbers, busyness and distractions. Between work and family, many of us are pulled in so many directions that we aren’t able to think straight. And science is proving that when we are in stress mode we don’t think, we react. We do what we’ve done before. Not because that’s the best way of doing it, or even if it didn’t work the last time. We do it, we react, because that is what we know. We are in a state of self preservation.
When we are living in a state of constant stress, our brain goes into that automatic mode. The amygdala, one part of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic side of it, the often called ‘reptilian’ brain takes over. This is the ‘fight or flight’ part of brain where numerous chemicals flood the system and cause us to jump into action. The other half of the system is the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the ‘rest and digest’ brings our bodies into a balanced state of calm and increases our use of the prefrontal cortex of our brain. Both of these sections of our brain have been with us and have preserved us since slithered out of the primordial ooze onto land, telling us when to run and when to relax. If we are stressed for long periods of time, as many of us are today, it’s our reactive reptilian brain that we are using.
There aren’t lions chasing us anymore. But the brain doesn’t recognize the different stress levels between a chasing lion and a deadline. Our nervous system tells our heart has to pump faster, that adrenalin and other hormones need to be secreted, that we breathe faster and all of this makes us more reactive. We say there’s so much going on that we can’t think straight, and that’s true because, according to our brain, that lion is going to get us and we have to keep going. The constant stress taxes our energy, our spirit and our body.
Did you know that studies have proven that people in hospitals who have a window in their room looking out into nature heal quicker than those without a window or one facing a wall? Did you know that a plant in their room or even a photograph of nature will speed recovery? Did you know that science has proven that walking in nature reduces the levels of adrenalin and cortisol, the hormones of the amygdala in the bloodstream? Did you know that the scent of cypress and sandalwood also help to calm us and bring us into a rational state? Nature heals.
Nature heals us in so many ways. This is not just your mother telling you to go outside for a walk to calm down. It’s nature at work. This is stopping to smell the flowers because it really does help with stress and other emotional responses. I confess that I thought that ‘aroma therapy’ was a little too new age for me, but the science is proving it to be valid. There is good reason to walk the dog in a park or practice yoga in the forest or meditation by the sea. Nature heals our minds, bodies and spirits. Nature pulls us into the calmness of the parasympathetic nervous system. It helps us live and respond to life in ways that are new and fresh to us.
The first civilizations developed about 5,000 years ago. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a few moments in our evolutionary history. We are only a few generations from when 80% of us lived in rural settings. We came from nature and we were surrounded by nature all the time. And if we are to thrive, we need to return to nature. There’s a reason why we gravitate to the mountains or the beach when we’re on vacation. There’s a reason why gardening is the number one hobby in America. We need to get outside in nature and soak it in.
I am grateful that I live on a small plot of land that is surrounded by tall trees and is bordered by a creek and where birds and butterflies pass all year round. But even if you live surrounded by city, there is always a tree nearby. Walk to a park, soak in the sunlight or moonlight. You can always have a few plants in your room. Even the soap scent you choose can help to keep a sense of calm. And we all need that, in our hearts, minds and bodies. We need nature to thrive.
Read about your connections to nature and other ways to thrive in: Brain Wash, by David Perlmutter MD and Austin Perlmutter MD. Getting back to nature is but one of its many suggestions for a healthier lifestyle.