Good for the Mind
Take your children to the countryside. Guide them to the top of the mountains and into the valleys. They will listen to you better there and the feeling of freedom will give them the strength to overcome difficulties.
– Johann H. Pestalozzi, Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer.
You close your eyes now, and visualize yourself in nature – looking at a landscape, walking in the forest, skiing down a mountain or swimming in a lake – what do you feel, sensory-wise and emotionally?
Possibly your answer is…
I am aware of the breeze, sunshine or water caressing my skin. I am aware of the silence. I am aware of my breathing. I am aware of the birds singing. I am aware of the waves on the surface of the water. I am aware of the variety of colours water, trees, soil, rocks and sky can have. I am aware of the scent of pine tree resin and of dampness when facing north. I feel calm, relaxed, awake, refreshed, inspired, free, and astonished by such beauty.
Through intuition, simple observation, and scientific studies, we know that nature has a positive impact on our mental and physical health. This should be of great interest to all health professionals. So what exactly happens to us when we are surrounded by nature?
Stress reduction, prosocial feelings and improved concentration
Contact with nature increases feelings of joy, friendship and euphoria and boosts intrinsic aspirations (aspirations that support basic psychological needs such as personal growth, good communication, community). It also diminishes feelings of frustration and anger and reduces extrinsic aspirations (materialistic aspirations). Serotonin kicks in with momentum. Serotonin is a chemical produced by nerve cells and is found mostly in the digestive system. Serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer and also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion. Natural environments also calm the brain by not overstimulating it. This helps us to deal with mental fatigue, which is associated with frustration, irritability, anger and impulsiveness. It also improves both voluntary and involuntary concentration capacity.
When the body is exposed to natural light, the serotonin levels increase, vitamin D is synthesized, and the secretion of melatonin is inhibited. (Melatonin is a hormone that helps with the timing of sleep: at night we should produce plenty of it, and the opposite should happen during the day.) These three effects don’t occur with artificial light.
The scents of nature
Nature provides us with an incredible quantity of olfactory substances that reach our brain via the nose and get into our blood circulation. It seems that when we breath in, all of these substances work together, balancing our mental attitude and making it easier to notice what is going on around us. Research is being done on how some of these substances seem to decrease stress hormones and anxiety as well as increase our pain threshold, while others seem to improve the working of the immune system.
The sounds of nature
A natural environment is an acoustic paradise. We can listen to woodpeckers looking for food, the murmur of water splashing the rocks, the snap of a branch, the whisper of the wind, the leaves shimmering in the trees. With all of these sounds surrounded by silence. We already know which effect it has on us: tranquillity.
Nature invites us to move. Such good vibes kick in when we are doing sports! We feel satisfied, energetic and enthusiastic. But doing exercise in nature is not only about physical activity. In the words of John Burroughs, “It is also about having our relationship with the world and with ourselves stimulated in a simple, direct and healthy way.”
By Sara Goti Jackson
Sara Goti Jackson works as a childhood and sexuality psychotherapist, she uses both movement and dance as an educational and therapeutic tool. She played everyday in the forest when growing up and nature still feels like home to her. She holds a Forest School Leader certificate. She lives in Seltisberg with her husband, two lively daughters and two loving cats, they all amaze her every day!
Illustration by Aleksandra Koroleva
Aleksandra, originally from Moscow, Russia, now lives in Adliswil with her husband and 6 year-old son. She specializes in clinical psychology and started studying illustration after her son’s birth. In her free time Aleksandra likes sleeping, just like all mothers do. https://www.instagram.com/uber_evil
An interesting fact: Roger S. Ulrich, specialized in evidence-based healthcare building design, collected data in his research proving that hospital patients recovered better and faster from an illness or a medical procedure when they had lots of plants in their room or could see vegetation from the window.