A WINDOWSCAPE TO NATURE
The urban jungle can be quite draining with its lifeless concrete columns and endless expanse of grays and dullness. The city does give off its special vibe and energy for those used to the bright lights. But with the relentless stress that city living entails, there must be some way to help alleviate it. Perhaps by focusing more on the serene calm that nature brings, this then cannot be taken for granted and shoved to the sidelines.
There have been a number of studies conducted that bodies can either increase or decrease their stress levels depending on their present environment. The senses of seeing, hearing, and feeling affect bodily functions and in a greater proportion, the overall mood and well-being of the individual concerned. Blood pressures get raised, heart rates can beat rapidly, tense muscles, and an affected immune system may happen because of a very unpleasant setting. This stress, anxiousness and feeling of helplessness can be reversed through a more peaceful ambiance.
It doesn’t matter what age you are or what culture you come from, there’s that, pun intended, natural affinity towards nature. Stress seems to dissipate better when people take in more fresh air or go for a casual stroll in the park. Let’s explore more of what nature has to offer.
There’s that healing sensation which occurs just by exposing one’s self to the calmness of nature. Even just viewing pictures or cleverly placed natural landscapes on windows can help decrease negative vibes and increase that much needed sense of well-being. Blood pressure levels may go down, heart rates stabilize, tense muscles relax, and stress seems to disintegrate when the serenity of the outdoors is brought into our usual mundane living or work setting. Researchers have noticed that even mortality rates are on a downtrend when nature becomes the norm. Just having a living plant in the room can do wonders to improve everyone’s mood.
A soothing effect also occurs when nature engages our present aches and pains. Man has that intrinsic disposition towards the earth, calm vistas, towering trees, fresh water, and such. We get involved in what we’re experiencing and can help distract us from our pressing ailments.
Attributed to Robert Ulrich, a doctor who made this observation about patients recovering from their medical procedures, he noticed that those who were placed in an area with a natural view recovered better than those who were just looking at a wall. Those who looked at trees more were found to have fewer negative effects and got out of hospital care in a less amount of time. Again, even a simple potted plant in the patient’s room can hopefully contribute in a positive manner to the recuperation period.
Nature also seems to have some restorative powers. There are other studies that suggest how nature continues to positively affect one’s overall well-being. Just spending some quiet time outside helps improves the mood of some individuals. The depression, stress-filled anxiousness somehow goes away and a more calm and balanced state sets in. This time in nature or even just peacefully viewing scenes of nature really usher in that positive mood more rapidly. Various researchers also support that more meaningfulness, vitality, and greater psychological stability are a result of more exposure to greenery.
We can become more focused and our attention increases when we are presented these natural scenes. Nature brings out that interest from within ourselves. So, our senses seem more heightened and more alert. Our overactive and overworked minds get a break because we are drawn to tasks that peak our interest and reset our vision. Children with ADHD have been found to respond more in such a pristine environment. Their attention span gets that much needed boost.
There’s a deeper connection that nature can bring into our normal cycle of life. Take for example, a study conducted by the University of Illinois that looked into the effects of having more trees and green spaces for residents at public housing settlements in the Chicago area. The setting allows them to have more casual conversations with one another and they get to know each other more. There seems to be stronger feelings of unity and affinity between neighbors, they want to look out for each other, and they want to help and support one another. Those who have more trees surrounding them have an increased sense of belonging to others in their community. Street crimes get reduced, violence and aggression among domestic partners also decreases. There’s more of that positive outlook to cope with life’s demands especially since these residents come from the more marginalized in society.
When brain scans were conducted on those involved in this study, the results reflected friendlier behavior. Natural scenes affect the parts of the brain that induce empathy and love. Urban scenes seem to bring out more fear and anxiety. We feel more connected through nature than in the suffocating realism of the concrete jungle.
The sad fact of entering the unnatural state of being a couch potato deprives us of the benefits of assimilating with nature. This “nature deprivation,” that lack of time in the natural world, which comes from long hours spent in front of TV or computer screens, tend to be associated with the onset of depression. If all that a person does is constantly stay transfixed to these unfeeling screens, then that loss of empathy and a severe degradation of altruism have that tendency to set in. The virtual world, that fantasy land become the norm for those who don’t get to go out more.
If someone remains in that state of isolation and depression, an article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology circa 2011 points out that being in front of the screen brings on a higher risk of death compared to being outside. Physical inactivity wasn’t even factored into this equation. So, isolating ourselves to just letting the boob tube run our lives isn’t really living at all.
To further explore the effect of urbanization on how our brain functions, we must consider how nature calms the brain and heals the body. Our brains weren’t really programmed for city living. But there’s a growing trend of our present population to flock to these centers in search of employment opportunities and further educational attainment. It’s no surprise then that we can estimate about 70 percent of all human beings on this planet can be found in these cities. Even with the promise of prosperity, there are some health issues that need some consideration. The fast pace of life that cities demand can bring the onset of debilitating health challenges. Our brains and subsequent behavior reflect the effects of city living on our persona.
City life can result in a more upscale way of living, and there are more modern options in terms of health care, food intake, and sanitary compliances. The rural possibilities still remain quite limited in these fields. But, we notice how class struggle becomes more pronounced, how diseases related to this rich lifestyle proliferate, and how much more demanding and stressful the everyday grind is for city folk. Studies conducted have noticed a 21 percent greater risk in anxiety disorders and a 39 percent increase in the likelihood that they may develop certain mood disorders if they continue to live under the bright lights of the big city.
Other studies continue to show that social stress is a sensitive sore point for those existing in urbanized areas. The brain scans again validate how activity in the amygdala region of the brain gets an upsurge of emotions because these control our fears and therefore pushes our stress-related hormones to dangerous levels. This amygdala area, if not kept in check, can induce more violent tendencies because of the raised anxiety disorders, more depressing sensations, and a behavior bordering on the psychotic that are very much related to the realities of pressure-filled city life.
Some researchers have also discovered that people who lived in cities for their first 15 years generally experienced that increased activity in the area of the brain which helps regulate the amygdala. Perhaps, those who were raised in these urban settings have more sensitivity to stress because that was a constant factor in their formative years. This is compared to new migrants to city centers who weren’t exposed to such stresses early on.
David Gessner, a professor and author, has been quoted that we’re becoming “fast twitch” animals. Every 30 seconds, there seems to be an alarm going off inside our minds that somewhat prevents us from concentrating for an extended duration. With the unrelenting bombardment of stimulation, we find ourselves constantly sifting through various bits of information, other surprising distractions, and add to that, deciding on what to do next. No wonder our minds are so doggone tired by the day’s end.
When everything’s going a mile a minute, how can one possibly learn to slow down? Nature presents that natural course in doing so. We cite a statement from David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist who said, “being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command center, to dial down and rest, like an overused muscle.”
Even just a momentary interaction with nature can help soothe out any distractions in our brains as some research data point out. There was one study wherein people were asked to take a 50-minute walk through a natural path or an urbanized setting. Increased memory performance, a better sense of self, a dissipation of negativity was generally experienced by the nature walkers. Rumination or the constant “paralysis of analysis” syndrome was also addressed by just being in the woods for some quiet time. The risk of mental illness was also decreased by just feeling more connected with the environment.
Researchers from Korea did their own investigation into how the brain activity of volunteers responded to simply looking at urban or natural scenery. As expected, those gazing at an urban theme had an increase of blood flow to the amygdala region. Empathy and altruism sections of the brain had a more heightened response when volunteers were taking in a natural scene.
Japan has a unique perspective for those longing to integrate with nature through “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku in their lingo. There’s an opportunity to breathe in more beneficial bacteria, essential oils that come from plants and negatively-charged ions. This interact in some way with bacteria in the gut that strengthens the body’s immune system and physical as well as mental health are greatly supported.
This component of health and gains in psychological resilience are derived from just spending time with nature. With all that we face in life, nature supports us in this manner. A small garden, a nearby park, a secluded trail can even give that much needed respite for those too engrossed with city living. FIND YOUR SERENE SCENE WITH PROLAB DIGITAL
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