Month: November 2014

How Trees Heal Us: An SE Perspective

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News flash! Recent research demonstrates a relationship between experiencing Nature, and stress reduction. IMG_0915

Okay, maybe it’s not really a news flash for some of us.  We already know this, right?

Anecdotally, I know that when I suggest to my clients that they go soak in some Nature, the ones who follow up on the suggestion almost always report relaxation, renewal–even a heightened sense of their life’s purpose. And now, here’s some very recent, measurable scientific research to back up our intuition.

This study is interesting because its measures include direct indicators of autonomic functioning:  “Multiple measures were used to assess participants’ stress levels and recovery during the experiment, including skin conductance, salivary cortisol levels and self-reports.”

As you might know from participating in an SE session, we are really interested in what the autonomic (unconscious) nervous system is doing, because it’s our deepest control center. It’s where most of our symptoms “live” after trauma, stress, etc.

So why does this work, then? How does being in Nature heal our bodies, minds, spirits?

From an SE perspective, something about viewing a dense tree canopy caused the autonomic nervous system to downregulate. That is, switch from a fight/flight (sympathetic arousal) state induced by the researchers, into more of a rest/digest (parasympathetic) state.  For men, this happened experientially and by direct measurement of a few ANS responses; for women,the stress reduction showed up more experientially than physiologically.  (I wonder why? You see, good research always inspires more research!)

What was it about Nature that caused downregulation? The study doesn’t say. But whatever it was, it happened in enough people to cause a statistically significant effect.  Even though the “nature experience” was simply viewing a video of neighborhood trees! Imagine how much stress reduction they might have had if they experienced Nature in an embodied way: by actually being there, being able to smell and hear and feel it?  (Assuming that Nature didn’t include pests or predators!)

Here I’ll invite you to take a moment, and recall an experience with Nature that you found beautiful,  inspirational, calming, etc.  It could be as vast as the Grand Canyon or as tiny as a small flower or insect. Remember it, and really “see” it in your mind’s eye, feel into it. What changes can you detect in your felt sense? In your emotions? Your thoughts?

Modern-day society exposes us to A LOT of stress and demand. For the ANS, those demands mean spending a lot of time in fight/flight response, and pouring a lot of our life energy into that state of being.  In my experience, it’s crucial, vital to our well-being to have some “down time” as well: relaxation and fun.

There’s something about Nature that calls to many of us.  Exactly what it is, might be difficult to quantify via scientific research. But that doesn’t stop us from seeking out something we know in our bones is good for us.

Here is the direct link to the study, for those interested.

Other suggested readings:

Nature Therapy

Ecotherapy: Being in Nature Fights Depression

Ecotherapy and EcoPsychology

Explanation and Commitments of Ecotherapy

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