The kick for the head (by Denise Jeitziner)

The kick for the head (by Denise Jeitziner)

Nothing relaxes people as reliably as nature

Research in relation to nature in hyper civilization (natursoziologie.de 6/2014 Jeitziner)

It’s said, nature is good for you. It pulls us outside when we feel restless.

To the river, to the lake, into the forest, to the mountains. Intuitively. Afterwards, we usually feel better, more relaxed. Scientists have been studying the question of how nature affects our psyche for decades.

US – Researchers are amongst the pioneers in this field of study. Originally they wanted to find out, how roads and accommodations in American national parks need to be created to make the visitors feel comfortable and return as often as possible. Later on, they extended the field. The result was always the same: nature is good for you.

This effect can be read from the fact that blood pressure and heart rate decrease, as well as the cortisol content in the blood.

And that our heart rhythm reacts more flexibly to stress.

All of them are indicators of relaxation. The stay in nature improves our concentration and mood – a few minutes can be enough. Nature experiences make us more social, more open-minded and strengthen the frustration tolerance.

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There is no shortage of evidence that nature has a positive effect on us. However, the experts have difficulties to explain, what is it exactly that relaxes us. The findings of psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan (University of Michigan), who has been researching environmental psychology for more than 30 years, are well supported.

They found 4 categories an environment must meet to be relaxing: „distance from daily life“, „Orientation towards the needs“, „Fascination“ and „Expanse“.

„distance from daily life“: We can only really recover, once we feel separated from our routine, our duties – and not only just locally, but especially mental. Of course, this feeling can occur, too, in cinema, in a spa or stroll through the nice historical center of the city. But nowhere as easy as in nature. The place of escape does not necessarily have to be as far away or as exotic as possible; Neither the sea nor the rainforest is necessary. For some, it is the park in front of their house, for others any riverbank, a lake or any forest.

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„Orientation towards the needs“ is the 2nd characteristic for a relaxing surrounding. According to Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, we recover best, once we’ll find in that surrounding, what we are searching for that special moment: peace, a beautiful view, hiking or swimming.

Most of the environmental psychologists address the effect of different types of landscapes. „Of course loads of other, less researched factors, play an important role in landscaping perception“, Nicole Bauer says from WSL. Aside from noises and flavors, most possibly colors influence our well-being, too, so the different wavelengths of light. The blue tones of the sky mirrored in the water stand for relaxation and peace. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate. Just like the color green, which has a calming and relaxing effect.

However, the 3rd criterion of landscapes is crucial. The Kaplans describes it as „Fascination“. Once we are fascinated by an environment, we recover more easily. Nature achieves here something paradoxical: It enchants us with gentle aesthetics – with a sunset, with cloud figures in the sky or a  field of flowers – and yet it isn’t exhausting.

In the Attention Restoration Theory environmental psychologists describe a phenomenon, everybody is familiar with:

During the exhausting daily life, a short stay in nature is ideally suitable to be able to concentrate again. Nature opens room for reflexion. Different from being in a museum, which exhausts us with every new artwork a bit more. It doesn’t matter how fascinated an exhibition is, from a certain point we can’t concentrate anymore.

Rachel and Stephen Kaplan make a difference between a kind of an arbitrary, purposeful attention of everyday life from an involuntary, spontaneous attention, that nature triggers in ourselves and relaxes. Only: The environment must not be too spectacular. It should inspire us, but not to enchant too much, like e.g. an exceptionally attractive person. Because then our thoughts are no longer free.

In their Attention Restoration Theory, the Kaplans distinguish from 4 phases of relaxation.

Phase 1: Clear your mind.

Phase 2: Restore attention ability.

Phase 3: allow unwanted questions and thoughts, which come up, as soon as inner and outer noise is reduced.

Phase 4: reflecting on yourself and your life, evaluate possibilities, setting goals.

A relevant key factor plays here if we feel a landscape as beautiful. It’s said, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. The more surprising that most people, whether in Asia, Europe or Africa, prefer savanna-like landscapes with gentle expenses and sweeping trees. Most popular are landscapes that are manageable and easy to explore, with lots of green and a high water content. Evolutionary biologists found an explanation for it: Because water is essential, we feel most comfortable in landscapes with lakes, rivers or streams.

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The whole article is to find here: http://www.wanderforschung.de/files/jeitziner-natpsych_1410201315.pdf. However, it is in German only.

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