To be human is to be stressed. For our ancient ancestors, stress may have been encountering a predator. Today, modern stress can come in many forms, from simple disappointment or to tragic events. Unfortunately, our brains evolved to deal with fighting for our lives or running from predators, not the frustration that comes with a malfunctioning smart phone or when the internet goes out.
What can we humans do to handle these new types of stresses in the modern world that we created? Does nature still have a role to play?
In essence, yes, nature still has a major role to play in our lives. Now for the long answer.
More research is proving the importance of nature and the positive effects it can have on our physical and mental well-being.
Regardless of our age or culture, scientists have found that nature can be restorative to most humans. But how? One theory is that it is hardwired into our brains. Ancient humans had to be good observers of their surroundings because their lives depended on being mindful. So for a prehistoric individual to be engrossed by their surroundings, means they likely survived longer and were able to pass along their genes. This inherent fascination with nature is in all of us, which has led to some interesting rewards that our brain sends out that can help deal with both emotional and physical stresses.
We are engrossed with nature, therefore pain and discomfort are lessened because natural scenes distract our brains. Anxiety and mental fatigue are reduced when we are outdoors because nature does not require our deliberate focus. When we see plants, our brains can process that information with little effort. In an ironic way, plants remind us of what is like to be human. As one researcher said, "Plants take away some of the anxiety and tension of the immediate now by showing us that there are long, enduring patterns in life."
One way to create places of restoration is through healing gardens. A healing garden can come in many forms, but the most important component is real, living, green plants, flowers, and natural elements like flowing water. Some human elements, such as abstract sculpture, are discouraged from being used in healing gardens. Abstract art can be interpreted in multiple ways, and if a person is dealing with some type of stress, it is likely that interpretation is going to be negative. Other things to avoid are loud modern-day noises such as traffic or air conditioners.
Immersing oneself in nature is good, and the act of gardening goes one step further. The physical activity and sense of accomplishment are huge benefits to human health. In addition, the great thing about plants is that they respond to human care in a non-threatening way and plants don't discriminate. Cultivating a plant or entire garden can be a huge boost to self-esteem.
Gardening can transcend social problems. No matter your race or social status, a love for plants can bring people together. Several researchers and projects have shown gardening to promote positive social interaction.
Spirituality varies from person to person, but nature often plays a role. Being within a healing garden creates a sense of peace and connectedness to oneself, others, and perhaps things greater than us.
While everyone may agree, it is common sense that being outside is good for you, having scientific research to quantify those statements is important. Plus, researchers are finding that nature and gardening are far more important than most may think. As we continually lose nature every day and retreat indoors to our modern conveniences (and stresses), it is important to remember to get outside and enjoy the world around us. It may be through our engrained infatuation with the natural world that we can make it better and perhaps reduce some of our own stress along the way.
Good Growing Tip of the Week: Healing gardens are not therapeutic gardens. Therapeutic gardens have themes and are specifically designed for certain users. For instance, a therapeutic garden may have plants and features that highlight touch and sounds for those with vision impairments.