Updated: Mar 3
The average brit now spends a whopping 8 hrs 41 mins in front of a screen each day. Whether it’s in front of a PC in the office, scrolling the headlines on the daily commute or looking at what people have had for dinner on Instagram.
We’ve quickly become a nation of addicts. Most of us are aware of it too and besides the occasional pangs of guilt, we still indulge anyway. People can sometimes start the day with the best of intentions and then find themselves watching the latest boxset on Netflix, whilst simultaneously scrolling social media on a laptop and trying to read the constant barrage of messages coming through on the group WhatsApp. Sometimes, it can all too easily consume us.
Although all of this technology provides us with more opportunities to connect with each other than ever before, it is actually making us feel more alone. Britain was recently dubbed the “Loneliness Capital of Europe” and research has suggested that this is in part, down to our growing reliance on social technology rather than face to face interaction. Subsequently, we are feeling less connected to each other and the world around us and our relationships are becoming more superficial and less rewarding.
“Nature Deficit Disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses,” says Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods.
Couple this with the fact that for the first time in human history more people are living in urban areas compared to rural areas, there isn’t any wonder that we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural world. Richard Louv, a prominent environmental author described this disconnection from nature as ‘nature deficit disorder’.
“Nature Deficit Disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses” says Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods.
It can all paint a pretty bleak picture. Surely having a connection with nature can’t make that much of a difference to our well-being… can it. Naturally, lovers of the outdoors would argue against this notion, but there is now a significant body of research to back up their claims.
Let’s explore just some of the reasons why nature is a force for good when it comes to our wellbeing:
It keeps us in shape
Nature provides us with the best playgrounds for exercise, whether it’s going for a walk in the park, running on the beach or cycling through the woods. Out in nature, you can feel the wind blow through your hair, the rain on your face and you get an opportunity to explore living, breathing places rather than staring at yet another screen on the treadmill in an overpriced gym. In addition, it has also been found that individuals who exercise in nature are less depressed, angry and anxious than those who burn the same amount of calories in built-up environments..
Nature provides us with the best playgrounds for exercise, whether it’s going for a walk in the park, running on the beach or cycling through the woods. Out in nature you can feel the wind blow through your hair, the rain on your face and you get an opportunity to explore living, breathing places rather than staring at yet another screen on the treadmill in an overpriced gym. In addition, it has also been found that individuals who exercise in nature are less depressed, angry and anxious than those who burn the same amount of calories in built up environments.
It has healing powers
Research has shown that views of nature or being exposed to nature can help us to recover from illnesses faster. Over a period of 10 years, a hospital in the US compared two sets of post-operative patients. One set of patients had a room with views looking out on trees, whilst the other had views of a brick wall. Those with views of nature stayed in hospital for significantly less time, needed less medication and had fewer negative comments in the nurse’s notes.
As well as physical health, nature can also play an important role in helping with mental health issues. According to the charity MIND - approximately 1 in 4 of us in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. At times, we can all too quickly reach for the prescriptions before considering the changes in lifestyle we could make.
Taking part in nature-based activities has been found to contribute to a reduction in levels of anxiety, stress, and depression and it can make us more resilient to the stresses of life in the future. This is something the government is slowly beginning to realise and pilot studies have shown very positive results for green interventions such as care farming, environmental conservation, and social and therapeutic horticulture.
Our memory improves
The modern world bombards us relentlessly with that much information that sometimes it is hard to take it all in. However, fear not, psychologists have found that by going for a short walk in a natural environment can improve memory by as much as 20 per cent!
We can concentrate more easily
Our lives seem to be full of distractions that steal time away from us getting our ‘to-do’ list finished. Concentrating on the task in hand is something that children with ADHD in particular find hard, though studies have found that playing outdoors in a natural space can reduce symptoms of ADHD in children threefold compared with staying indoors. Furthermore, Aric Sigman (Child Psychologist) found that children who were exposed to nature scored higher on concentration and self-discipline – dubbing this the ‘countryside effect’.
Our social interaction improves
Being in nature provides us with unique opportunities to interact with one another. We joined a 12 week programme for young people who were unemployed. A number of students would have issues surrounding confidence and self-esteem and they were often very hesitant to communicate with others.
So don’t feel like you need to leave the modern world behind completely, just give yourself some switch-off time. Come down and see us. might be sat there reading this thinking - “All of that sounds good, but I’m not about to become some ‘far out’, spiritual, hippy, eco-warrior dude overnight.” of purpose and leaving the worries of home behind, all provide the perfect conditions for relationships to be forged. It is, therefore, no surprise that recent government studies have shown being in the outdoors can lead to increased social contact and inclusion.
We feel part of a community
Psychologists from the University of Rochester found that exposure to nature in opposition to man-made environments can lead us to value community and close relationships more. We are happier and feel more fulfilled when we feel we are part of a community and more connected to others.
It can generate a ‘peak experience’
Have you ever had a peak experience? Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, describes them as
"rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect”. Nature can provide many opportunities for these peak experiences to happen, whether its sitting by a campfire and staring up at the night sky in awe or looking out from a mountain top in wonder. The natural world can create these moments that will change your outlook on life forever, making you feel more positive about yourself and the world around you.
So there you have it, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that a connection to nature is important for our well-being. You might be sat there reading this thinking - “All of that sounds good, but I’m not about to become some ‘far out’, spiritual, hippy, eco warrior dude overnight.”
The truth is – you don’t need to book yourself on to a 3 week trek across the Andes, you don’t need to throw away your iPhone and you don’t even have to start hugging trees! (Though I’d recommend all 3 of those things!)
We are all a part of nature and we can all have our own unique ways of positively interacting with it.
So don’t feel like you need to leave the modern world behind completely, just give yourself some switch-off time and venture out in the woods.