When I was a child and my family was planning to move to the United States, my biggest fear was that I would be stuck living in a city. I spent the first part of my childhood in Bermuda. My days were filled with catching bees (and letting them go), flying kites in the breeze, exploring the woods and playing with lizards (I was too compassionate to make them fight). I was scared that this life would end when I went to the States. I would be stuck in an apartment building behind glass and concrete.
When we got the States I was so grateful for my parents’ choice of housing. Our block had a large green patch of land with a brook running through it. This land was a magnet for me and my friends. There were trees to climb, water to play near, grass to roll in and blackberries to eat - basically, heaven on earth.
As a child, I believed that it was important for people to live close to nature. As a man and a psychologist, I continue to hold firmly to this belief. Apparently, biologist Edward O. Wilson, Ph.D. also agrees with my 7-year-old self.
In his theory of ‘biophilia’ Wilson talks about how human beings are drawn to nature. In her research, psychologist Nancy Wells, Ph.D. discovered that children who moved to bigger green spaces had an increase in their cognitive functioning as compared to those who moved to new homes near smaller green spaces.
Of course, many of today’s youngsters are occupied with pastimes that do not involve being outside in the natural environment. ‘Modern’ children are often preoccupied with electronic devices while they are resting on couches. As a result, they are missing out on a natural and very inexpensive method of growing their minds. Getting children out-of-doors can be an effective intervention for teachers and other persons who serve the needs for children.
Children are not the only humans who respond well to a natural environment. Daniel K. Brown and his colleagues have found that nature has a calming effect on adults. This effect was especially apparent after a person had experienced a stressful event.
The field of Mental Health is increasingly looking at ‘getting back to nature’ as a treatment modality to address ailments such as anxiety and depression. With the ever-increasing prescriptions for drugs to treat anxiety and depression, patients are calling for alternatives to these chemicals. In response to this demand, providers of care are exploring the benefits of ‘Nature-Based’ interventions.
While exploring the natural environment can be good for persons who are under stress or suffering mental illness, the general population can benefit from regular immersion in the outdoors. In fact, getting outside might be considered part of a daily mental health regimen. Get outside, climb two trees and call me in the morning!
Leonard L. Astwood, Psy.D.