It is believed that one of the greatest benefits of nature, either living near it or viewing images of nature, is that it reduces stress. In one study, conducted by Catherine Ward Thompson and her colleagues, it shows that humans who live near larger areas of green space reported less stress and showed a greater decline in cortisol levels over the course of the day. In another interesting study, the humans who watched a one-minute video of awe-inspiring nature said, afterwards, that they felt "like they had enough time to get things done" and didn't feel like "life was slipping away from them", compared to those humans who watched a one-minute video that made them feel happy. In yet another study done by Robert Ulrich, it is shown that patients who were recovering from cardiovascular surgery, healed faster if they had a view of nature from outside their hospital room window. There are a number of studies proving that those who "experience a great deal of awe, wonder, and amazement...and an awareness of the natural beauty around them, showed lower levels of a biomarker (IL-6) that could lead to a decreased likelihood of cardiovascular disease, depression, and autoimmune disease." A recent study looked at different kinds of nature "immersion"...natural landscapes viewed during a walk, views from a window, pictures and videos, and flora and fauna around residential and workplace environments, showed that nature experiences, of all different kinds, led to reduced stress, easier recovery from illness, better physical well-being in the elderly, and behavioral changes that improve mood and over-all well-being."
OK, so now we know that nature makes us happier and healthier, but why do humans NEED nature? In addition to all the benefits I've talked about already, there is some evidence that exposure to nature impacts the brain. "Viewing natural beauty (in the forms of landscape paintings and videos, anyway) activates specific reward circuits in the brain associated with dopamine release that gives us a sense of purpose, joy, and energy to pursue our goals." What's sad, is that humans are spending less and less time outdoors and in the beauty o nature. And what is true, is that in the last 30 years, human's stress level and sense of "busyness" has increased dramatically! Hmmm. I think there might be a correclations there!
Richard Louv, an environmental writer, coined the term, "nature deficit disorder" to help explain the loss of connection that humans have with nature; it is a form of suffering that occurs when we sense there is a disconnection from nature and her power.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century environmentalist and philosopher said it best when speaking about nature, "There I feel that nothing can befall me in life - no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair." Perhaps it's time for all us, myself included, to reconnect with nature. I know for sure, that it feels pretty darn good to go home and reconnect with Mother (Earth). For many of us, we've been away to long. I, for one, am getting homesick. Are you?