For all of human existence the concept of nature as a Maternal figure has been a comforting thought. Mother Nature, Gaia, Terra, Mother Earth all are names we’ve given to nature, something that humans forget we are a part of. Our contact with nature is very metaphorical to that of children with their mother. We get our food from nature, our shelter, we learn how to cultivate the skills needed to survive, but the concept was more easily recognized in the past than in modern times.
Many studies have shown that contact with nature can improve not only your mood, but your mental and physical health as well. Roger Ulrich, PhD, the director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M, has determined that patients who are in a hospital setting surrounded by nature are more likely to heal faster, have less complications and need fewer pain medications than patients in traditional hospital settings. In some cases it isn’t even necessary that the nature be “real” Ulrich quotes studies from a Swedish hospital where heart surgery patients were able to reduce their anxiety and need for extensive medication by simple looking at pictures of trees and water landscapes. Based on these, and many other studies Dr. Ulrich poised a theory that to soothe patients, facilities and families should expose them to nature-related art as well as aquariums and have plants and gardens set up in areas for them to relax and hopefully heal more expeditiously.
Other theories suggest that ones contact with nature has additional positive effects. The Psychoevolutionary Theory (PET) and the Attention Restoration Theory (Art) are used to explain how our contact with nature reduces stress, improves mood, and increases cognitive function. The PET theory states that humans are evolutionarily programmed to react to nature as our ancestors did. Our perceptions allowed our ancestors to enjoy the beauty around them as they gathered the resources necessary for survival. These positive built-in responses can explain how our contact with nature can reduce stress and improve someone’s mood. The ART theory says that a natural environment will reset and relax your directed attention. The continuous attention humans must maintain in modern society can over tax your brain and leave you fatigued. Contact with nature results in our subconscious becoming more active, allowing our focus to wain and letting the brain relax and recharge. This theory further explains how nature can increase your cognitive functions.
The study of Ecopsychology teaches us how to interact with nature without trying to assert dominance over it. Ecopsychology has its roots in many cultures such as shamanism, paganism and indigenous cultures throughout the world such as the tribes of Native Americans and the nomadic Mongolian people. While each of these culture are vastly different they all are said to feel highly connected due to their contact with nature. The belief that you can be at one with nature and still have some control over it are key principles that can help with the inevitable connection between nature and humans. Supporting and engaging with your natural surroundings can be done by working on sustainable energy technologies, new eco-friendly farming practices and creative use of architecture that incorporates natural surroundings into designs to reduce the impact on the landscape.
All of these examples are just small steps that can be taken to increase humans connection and contact with nature!