Can Reconnecting With Nature Help Our Wellbeing And Emotional Regulation At Work?
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
They took all the trees Put them in a tree museum And they charged all the people A dollar and a half to see 'em
Personal photo of a plant in my neighbour's front garden that I took during the lockdown.
I am working with a client at the moment who has been brought in to ‘fix’ a business and ensure that it makes a profit in the next financial year. Her career has been built on successfully ‘turning businesses around’ and thus she is aware of what needs to be done. She is however, mindful to not get frustrated by the pace of change or take on the pressure that the board is imposing upon her. As we discussed her wellbeing and her emotional regulation, she reflected that despite the fact that in the past she found bushwalking very beneficial, she hasn’t made the time for it recently. It was this conversation that prompted me to look at the research in order to understand why a bush walk could be regenerative.
What are the benefits to our wellbeing of being in nature?
Nature activates the parasympathetic nervous system associated with contentment.
The sound of running water, lowers our stress responses.
Contact with nature can decrease pulse rates, reduce cortisol levels, and improve immune functioning.
Access to nature in our neighbourhood can be a buffer against stress.
The natural environment helps effective brain function.
Nature enhances prosocial helping behaviour and decreases a sense of entitlement.
Appreciation of nature enables us to find meaning and purpose in life.
Being in nature can improve general health and increase life expectancy.
Evidence suggests that connecting with nature is one path to flourishing in life
(Capaldi etc al)
How exactly does nature help our wellbeing?
Colin Capaldi a Canadian psychologist, identified three main theories that explain why connecting with nature is beneficial to our wellbeing:
Biophilia: Due to the fact that our fundamental basic human wellbeing and survival depends on connecting with nature, being in nature is an innate part of who we are. We seek beautiful, natural spaces because they contain the resources that we need. Attention restoration theory: In order for our brains to function effectively, we need to balance our long periods of directed attention (think of a long work day) with involuntary attention. The natural environment is conducive to involuntary attention because it contains fascinating rich stimuli that effortlessly engage us, without the need to constantly monitor our behaviour (think of watching leaves flutter in a breeze). Thus exposure to nature is a method of restoring the balance between our voluntary and involuntary attention. The stress-reduction theory: Unthreatening natural environments are evolutionarily beneficial because they automatically elicit stress-reducing psychophysiological responses. Simply being in nature activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Scientists explain that this is the part of the nervous system responsible for “rest and digest,”, and have found it is associated with feelings of contentment. Other researchers have looked at the phenomenon of Awe. Anyone who has taken a moment to stop to view the vastness of nature or contemplate its beauty will be aware that it induces feelings of awe. The process of observing the enormity of the physical environment serves to decrease the significance of ourselves, our concerns, and thus frees us to think of others. I personally believe that observing resilience in nature acts as a visual cue to remind us that it is possible to bounce forward from adversity. Dating back to the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, clinical psychologists have identified a phenomenon they call 'post traumatic growth'. Specifically, they have found that a substantial proportion of people experience positive changes arising from their struggle with the aftermath of experiencing a negative event that shakes up ther view of the world. To look at a part of the Australian bush that was decimated by tragic bushfires and see new green shoots on banksia and eucalyptus trees is a fabulous reminder of the possibility of rejuvenation after challenging events.
After an emotionally overwhelming event: People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life
So what did my client decide to do? My client realised, that there are no wellbeing silver bullets, and a once off bush walk will not magically achieve her desired state of constant calm. Never the less, she decided to commit to seeking out and regularly accessing the natural beauty that is on her doorstep. In addition, as she had not taken a day of leave since early January she has arranged for a week of annual leave and will include bushwalking in her holiday leisure activities. Finally, to add a bit of fun to her workday and to remind herself that there are no shortcuts to wellbeing and emotional regulation, she has added the Softmal's version of ‘I believe in Miracles’ to her Spotify playlist. I have added Softmal's and Hot Chocolate’s version of the song to my Spotify blog playlist.
There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair
Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the spirit of practicing what I preach I decided to embrace the benefits of flexible
working and wander with my laptop to a bench with a view of the water to finish this blog. As you explore the nature on your doorstep please email me with a picture of the beauty that you find.
References: anpsa.org.au. (n.d.). The Propagation of Banksia. [online] Available at: http://anpsa.org.au/APOL24/dec01-1.html. http://anpsa.org.au/APOL24/dec01-1.html Calhoun, L.G. and Tedeschi, R.G. (2004). The Foundations of Posttraumatic Growth: New Considerations. [online] Available at: https://ptgi.uncc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/01/PTG-New-Considertrns-2004.pdf [Accessed 25 Jun. 2020]. Colin A Capaldi: CV http://phac-aspc-gc.academia.edu/ColinCapaldi/CurriculumVitae Capaldi, C.A., Passmore, H.-A., Nisbet, E.K., Zelenski, J.M. and Dopko, R.L. (2015). Flourishing in nature: A review of the benefits of connecting with nature and its application as a wellbeing intervention. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(4), pp.1–16. Lorna Collier (2016) Growth after trauma. Why are some people more resilient than others—and can it be taught? https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma. Marinova, D. (n.d.). ScholarlyCommons Building Resilience in MBA Students: Bouncing Back and Forward through Challenges. [online] Available at: https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1122&context=mapp_capstone [Accessed 25 Jun. 2020]. Piff, P.K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D.M. and Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(6), pp.883–899. Stellar, J.E., John-Henderson, N., Anderson, C.L., Gordon, A.M., McNeil, G.D. and Keltner, D. (2015). Positive affect and markers of inflammation: Discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines. Emotion, 15(2), pp.129–133.
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Zhang, J.W., Piff, P.K., Iyer, R., Koleva, S. and Keltner, D. (2014). An occasion for unselfing: Beautiful nature leads to prosociality. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 37, pp.61–72. https://www.glwswellbeing.com/ https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_happens_when_we_reconnect_with_nature