Wellness and the importance of taking care of yourself is something that Chasing Zest cannot emphasise enough. That’s why we have partnered up with The LightHouse Center Arabia, who will be on hand each month, as part of our team of experts, to discuss various elements of well-being and mental health.
This month, Dr. Saliha Afridi PsyD (US), Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The LightHouse, answers a question that many of us often consider: why is nature so good for your health? We all can appreciate time outdoors and the impact it has on our mood, but what are the reasons for this? Perhaps your home country doesn’t offer many opportunities to spend time outdoors due to the weather or other circumstances. In the UAE, although the summers can be an issue, we are at least blessed with great weather for the majority of the year, which allows us to spend a lot of time outside. Read on to find out how to make the most of it, and why you should.
Regardless of age, culture, or background, human beings are intuitively drawn to nature to rejuvenate and restore themselves. We look at images on our screen savers, visit nature spas or find ourselves dreaming of our next island vacation during times of stress —which, given our intense lifestyles, is too often these days. Whether stressed or not, we naturally and spontaneously gravitate towards green trees, aqua waters and blue skies and once there, we find ourselves in a better mood, more relaxed and energised after as little as one day.
More recently there is research being commissioned by biologists, medical doctors, psychologists and even urban planners which show that nature indeed has many benefits for our mental, emotional, and physical well being.
Here are three ways nature has been proven to be good for general health and well-being:
As human beings advance technologically and cities start to replace gardens with skyscrapers, we are finding that many people are often complaining about feeling overwhelmed and stressed. The daily tasks of work and life, as well as the information overload due to technology, is resulting in many people reporting symptoms of attention fatigue, and attention deficit.
Our constant ‘connection’ with smart phones and having no clear boundaries between work and life, means that it has become even more critical that we find ways to interact and engage with nature to avoid mentally burning out. Nature is the best way for the mind to rest, reflect, and re-energise.
People who spend more time in nature have been shown to be more creative, have better attention capacities, and sharper memories. Companies are installing gardens in lunch rooms and urban planners are creating pockets of greenery wherever possible because it is clear that people are less stressed, more creative, and more productive after they have interacted with nature.
Being in nature has shown to increase positive feelings, elevate mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in individuals. Some studies report that a walk in nature for as little as one hour resulted in people reporting less rumination, less restlessness, and less brooding. Brain scans from these studies show an increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain whose deactivation is linked with depression and anxiety. People who spend more time in nature report feeling “more alive”, zestful, vital, and energetic—and generally happier.
We have all felt ‘happy’ after spending time in nature, but now we know that being in nature is not just good for our emotional and mental well-being but also for our physical bodies. Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower the heart rate and decrease muscle tension. It also reduces the negative effects of stress hormones. Our immune systems, endocrine system, and nervous system all respond positively to seeing, hearing and experiencing nature. In one hallmark study, it was shown that people in hospitals who had views of trees recovered and healed faster than those who had a view of the brick wall.
How to engage with nature while living in Dubai
☆ Keep plants in your office space and your home space. They not only beautify your environment but also significantly decrease symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety, tension, anger, and hostility.
☆ Take a walk on the beach barefoot, allowing your feet to soak in the salt water. The sand acts as a natural exfoliator and massaging agent, whereas the salt water energises, clarifies, and detoxifies.
☆ Leave your phone in the car or at home when you go for a walk in the park or on the beach. Allowing your brain to rest from screen time will result in you feeling more engaged in whatever activity that follows.
☆ Eat your lunch outside on a patch of grass. As little as ten minutes a day walking barefoot on grass, or sitting on grass / amongst trees has been shown to have positive effects on attention, problem-solving and creativity.
☆ Watch sunsets and sunrises. Not only is it cooler at these times, so the Vitamin D and the endorphins are being released in your body; but also, watching the magnificence of these moments connects us to something bigger than us, which promotes positive feelings of awe and gratitude.