Last year I finished an MA which focused on understanding how a closer connection to nature can support communities of women. During my research, it became clear that nature is able to help people to feel good and function well in a number of different ways. There were numerous academic papers to demonstrate this and which showed how developing a closer connection to nature can encourage personal growth and support physiological, emotional and attention restoration. Additionally, I read first-hand accounts from women that showed how they were able to activate their time in nature to combat feelings of stress and to balance their emotional wellbeing.
So, what exactly is nature connection?
Nature connection is a term that’s used to describe people’s relationship with the natural world. It moves beyond simply the physical contact that people have with nature and gravitates towards their psychological perception of it and how it relates to them as individuals. Essentially, it’s not just the time you spend in nature that’s important but your emotional and cognitive reaction towards it. A strong connection to nature reflects a close relationship to the natural world.
So, what exactly does nature do for your wellbeing?
It’s not rocket science to understand that the environment you’re in can affect you in different ways. If you’re in a harsh, unpleasant space you’re likely to feel stressed and anxious, which can raise your blood pressure or increase your heart rate. Humans respond positively to natural environments and studies have shown that even looking at pictures of natural spaces can have a positive effect on a person’s mood. Time spent in nature is able to help balance emotions which, in turn, can decrease the production of stress hormones (which leads to, you’ve guessed it, reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, tension etc).
A strong nature connection is also associated with better mental health. In particular, it’s been shown to lower depression and anxiety levels. Additionally, it’s also able to facilitate positive emotions such as calmness, joy and creativity.
Better for you, better for the planet
Studies show that a closer connection to nature not only supports wellbeing but also increases people’s pro-nature behaviours. Therefore, the more time you spend noticing, understanding and being immersed in nature, the better you’ll feel and, in turn, the more you’ll want to protect it. It’s the start of a chain reaction with far-reaching impact.
This relationship is critical at the moment as the climate emergency has underscored how far removed from nature people have become. This isn’t to point a finger of blame at anyone. As the global north has become more urbanised and digital technology has become the mainstream norm, it’s no wonder that the ways in which people interact and relate to nature has changed. Nonetheless, if we are truly to make inroads into tackling climate change, we need to develop a greater, more nuanced recognition of how the human race is part of nature, not outside of it.
Whilst the climate emergency desperately needs to be tackled with internationally joined-up, in-depth measures, there is much that can be done by individuals too. Developing a closer connection to nature and understanding how we can work together to appreciate, protect and nurture what’s on our doorsteps is the first part of this.
Over the coming weeks, this blog will explore how you can strengthen your own levels of nature connection. I’ll also be taking a closer look at the positive impact it can have on society and be a catalyst for protecting the planet. In the meantime, if you’d like to kickstart your own nature connection journey, please download my free 5 Calming Days of Nature booklet which has simple activities you can do to feel closer to the natural world.
Some of the research mentioned in this blog post includes:
Berto, R., 2014. The Role of Nature in Coping with Psycho-Physiological Stress: A Literature Review on Restorativeness. Behavioral Sciences 4, 394–409.
Kimmerer, R.W., 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Penguin ecology. Penguin Books, London.
Mental Health Foundation., 2021. Nature. How connecting with nature benefits our mental health.
Pritchard, A., Richardson, M., Sheffield, D., McEwan, K., 2020. The Relationship Between Nature Connectedness and Eudaimonic Well-Being: A Meta-analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies 21, 1145–1167.
Schiller, R., 2021. Earthed. Elliott & Thompson Ltd, S.l.
Stuart-Smith, S., 2020. The Well-Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World. William Collins, Great Britain.