Nature and positive mental health

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Jason Jurado of One Path Coaching (Courtesy photo)

By Jason Jurado,
One Path Coaching
Special to the Express

Winters is an amazing place to live. There are many attributes that make living here very special. One of the greatest things about the area is that we are surrounded by amazing outdoor areas with access to nature right in our city limits and also in the surrounding areas.

One of my favorite places is downtown on Putah Creek. My wife and I like to ride our bikes downtown and park by the Community Center and then walk down the trail and sit by the creek and relax and read and enjoy the sunshine.

We also enjoy taking the 10 minute (or less) drive out of town (but still located in Winters) and going to Lake Solano. The park is a fun way to relax and to be surrounded by nature. This time of year you can hear the peacocks singing their song. We recently took our inflatable boat out on the lake and paddled around and saw many people out on kayaks also enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Besides the enjoyment of being outdoors in nature and getting out into the sunshine there is also another reason to get out there and spend some time in nature. Studies have shown that being in nature actually increases your positive mental health. Nature can generate many positive emotions, such as joy, calmness, creativity and has been shown to improve concentration. It has also been shown to reduce anger, fear and stress.

Evidence shows that the quality of our relationship with nature is part of the reason for its impact on our positive mental health and wellbeing. The research is showing that our connectedness to nature is one of the main aspects of the quality of the relationship. There is a term, “Biophilia”, that is defined as “the human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature : a desire or tendency to commune with nature.”

Exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.

The great news is that even if you do not have access to outdoor spaces or can not see nature outside your work environment they have found that any exposure to nature — in-person or via video — led to improvements in attention, positive emotions and the ability to reflect on a life problem.

The effects have been found to be better if you were to actually get out into nature but you can still get benefits by watching a video or listening to an audio recording of nature. The sounds of nature support our positive mental health as well, so just by listening to sounds of nature you also gain similar benefits.

Studies have shown that if you were to go out into nature or watch a video of nature for as little as five minutes prior to going into a stressful situation, then your emotional recovery time (your ability to “bounce back”) after the event was quicker.

Fractals in nature
There is one last great discovery I want to talk about pertaining to nature and its effect on our positive mental health.

A fractal in nature is defined as “a pattern that the laws of nature repeat at different scales. Examples are everywhere in the forest. Trees are natural fractals, patterns that repeat smaller and smaller copies of themselves to create the biodiversity of a forest.”

Snowflakes, certain types of succulents, and leaves are all examples of fractals in nature. Something with a repeating and expanding pattern. One of the best examples is the nautilus shell with its (again, this is for the scientific types) Fibonacci spiral.

Studies have shown that looking at fractals can reduce stress levels by 60 percent. Testing suggests that fractals activate certain areas of the brain which are responsible for regulating stress. There have been other experiments done using eye tracking equipment to better understand how people look at these patterns. Using fMRI imaging and other brain measurements, it appears that we have hard wiring that responds to fractals in nature. For the scientific types out there, the theory is that it occurs because of a certain physiological resonance within the eye.

Take some time to look at photos of fractals in nature and see how you feel after. Better yet, while you are out in nature see how many examples of fractals you can find. They say that you can get results with just 20 seconds of looking at fractals.

Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

With the beautiful spring we are having and summer only a month away, make a plan to get out into nature and enjoy yourself.

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