Home Mental Health & Well-Being The Power of Nature: Why Should You Embrace It?

The Power of Nature: Why Should You Embrace It?

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When you see the word “nature”, what comes to mind? Well, most of us would have several positive feelings popping out of our heads, like “relaxing, calming, peaceful, untroubled, etc.”. But why does nature make us feel that way in the first place? And most importantly, how can we benefit from it?

A green pathway to enter a “trouble-free” zone

Imagine that you are in the midst of a forest. What do you see? Smell? Hear? Touch? Or even taste? You may engage your five senses to connect with nature. Such involvement of these senses is termed “forest bathing” (also known as shinrin-yoku), which originated in Japan.

Recent research has suggested that “forest bathing” can restore our minds and release our tension. It allows us to take a break from our hectic lives, and enjoy the serenity among the trees, thus improving our overall psychological state.

But, what if the forests give you a sense of creepiness? In such case, you won’t feel as restorative as you hope. This is because according to the prospect-refuge theory, we tend to show preference towards natural environments that provide us with a sense of security. You could pick your perfect spot where you don’t feel threatened, slowly immersing in that environment will help you achieve an optimal effect of restorativeness. When the feelings of calmness and relaxation start to seep in, this is when you have entered a “trouble-free” zone. 

Exposure to nature improves cognition

Ever feel like being absent-minded and can’t focus on your work? You might consider going out to nature to regain your attention, and boost your productivity. Kaplan’s landmark theory stated that if we want to restore our attention or working memory effectively, we need to stay in natural environments that fulfill these three components:

Having a sense of being away

Staying in environments that allow your mental state free from effortful attentional control. This is where you can find yourself slowly becoming relaxed, shifting your attention to the beautiful scenery, and don’t need to be vigilant about your environment. 

A spacious environment

The nature environments need to be spacious enough to induce a positive effect. So, why not challenge yourself by exploring different nature spots? That’s how you will eventually find the perfect spot that could benefit your cognitive abilities.

Mutual compatibility between goal and environment

You have learned that how natural environment could benefit your cognition overall. But, you may now wonder its effectiveness.

Here are the small tips for you: First, let me ask you two simple questions: Why do you want to explore the nature? Which environment do you like the most?

If you can answer these questions, then this could be a good news for you! When you can state the reason you want to explore the nature (the goal), and have positive feelings towards it (the environment), it is highly likely that such environment will also happily do its job to benefit your cognition.

With these key elements, we are able to regain our attention, and even improve our working memory. Numerous studies showed that participants who walked in natural environments had better attention and working memory. Surprisingly, exposure durations as short as one minute could induce similar beneficial effects. 

What if we walk around the natural environments in urbanised areas? Study suggested that toxic elements like lead, and particulate matter in the air could adversely affect one’s working memory. Hence, even if we expose ourselves to nature, we might not get the same benefits as we could in nature which is located far away from the cities.

Simple ways to experience nature without going out

What if your daily to-do list is longer than a giraffe’s neck, and you really can’t squeeze out some time to go for a walk in nature? Fear not, here are some suggestions that worth your consideration:

  • Place a small pot of flower plants on your working desk.
  • View pictures of nature scenery, or even make them as your phone or laptop wallpapers.
  • Foster a habit of gardening.
  • Listen to nature soundtracks.

Slow down and enjoy the beauty of nature  

Perhaps you spend most of your time in a concrete building working, or attending school lessons. You may be living the most hectic lifestyle which you think must be. You find yourself gradually becoming robotic. 

So, why not slow down your pace? Pick a good time, and explore nature. Enjoy the beauty of it. You will thank the beautiful nature for granting you a much better physiological and cognitive states, hence, a better self. 

Crystal Khoo holds a degree in psychology from the University of Reading Malaysia. She has a keen interest in exploring the human mind and sharing her knowledge with a wider audience. 


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