We have covered in recent blog posts how seasonal change can affect our vitamin D levels causing negative symptoms like depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (check out the post, here) This is one way that nature can have an impact on our physiological being. I am extremely excited to discuss with you one of the curious ways nature can have a positive effect on us. I am also extremely excited to share how this positive effect can interact and enhance our paleo lifestyles, and how we can use “Biophilia” to our utmost advantage.
After taking a long hike, camping or spending time purposely or accidentally in nature I often feel a sense of revitalization. My mind feels refreshed and inspired, my body lighter and reinvigorated, the air smelling and tasting fresh and full of oxygen. This common affect that nature has on our bodies and minds has a term: biophilia.
Biophilia is the principle that nature, or the presence of nature, has a positive impact on our physiological, emotional and mental being.
This principle, and the positive effect it has on us, is backed up by several credible scientific studies. And like mentioned previously, if you can recall a time you spent in nature, think about how you felt while you we’re surrounded in it and how you felt afterwards.
The term was first introduced in the 1960’s by a psychologist Erich Fromm. He described the term as ”the passionate love of life and all that is alive” . The term didn’t really gain momentum until 1984 when Edward O. Wilson released a book hypothesizing that biophilia was a genetic and instinctual response. Get his book, here. So even the draw towards vacationing can start to show our instinctual need to migrate away from the cities and get in touch with our roots, literally.
The Paleo-Biophilic Connection
When we discuss “paleo” we are often using our paleo ancestors diet in reference to how we maintain nutrition and meal plans now. Our ancestors hunted and foraged, ate whole foods, plants & nuts. I often hear paleo influences putting the ancestral diet on a pedestal. But why don’t we look at the entire lifestyle of our paleo ancestors and dissect how other lifestyle factors impacted their wellbeing? Like there living environments, for example. Our paleo ancestors didn’t have McMansions or permanent structures. The majority of their of their lives was spent with their toes in the dirt, amongst the natural environment. If we are looking to recreate a diet and lifestyle that resembles that of our paleo ancestors, then it is crucial to incorporate nature in addition to ancestral nutrition and movement.
How Biophilia Effects Us
So how does being in nature, seeing nature, smelling or even hearing things that represent nature affect us? Biophilia has been proven to have the following affect on humans.
- Reduce Stress
- Cope with Attention Deficits
- Improving circadian rhythm
- Decrease time it takes to recover or heal times – Literally – Increase healing speeds. According to this article from NCBI, Having a hospital window with a view has been shown to increase healing rates, reflected in both the level of pain medication and the speed of recovery after surgery. Commercial Interior Designers are implementing these principles in spaces of healing or learning to help us learn, work, and heal in a more productive manner.
- Improving Mental Restoration (Have you read my post on how Camping & Forest Bathing can be one of the ways to engage mental restoration?)
- Increased health longevity
How Much and What Kind of Nature?
There are several theories to why biophilia is considered effective. Some think that the air quality and movement associated with being in nature is what’s responsible. Or that being in nature is associated with socializing. But it is pretty safe to say that just looking at nature spurs an immediate effect on us.
The effects are not discriminatory. Nature in this sense can range from an immersive forest, a local park, or trees planted along a street in an urban setting. Any size pocket of nature will do.
Scientists know this to be true because represented nature can have the same effects as physical nature. Landscape photography, indoor plants, or natural screensavers will have the same physiological impacts as being surrounded by nature. So for example, if you are unable to be placed in a hospital room with a window, a room with nature photographs will have the same effect on recovery rates.
The exposure time needed for these positive benefits to occur is minimal, too. So, you don’t have to take a 4 day off the grid camping adventure to feel biophilia in effect.
How to Use it to Your Advantage
So now that we know the effects and science behind biophilia, we need to implement. The benefits of biophilia are necessary to maintaining a healthy and balanced life. One of the biggest suspected causes of autoimmune diseases and conditions like adrenal fatigue is stress. There are many ways to do this, and they don’t always include viewing nature. According to NCBI – Biophilia can be engaged by acoustic impact, and even olfactory implementation.
Ways to Make it Work For You
1) Horticulture Therapy
This practice has been around for centuries. Getting dirt under your nails and watching the herecletian cycle of plants gives us a sense of calm and wellbeing. This also keeps us present & maintain mindfulness. You could even use horticulture as a way to grow your own fruits and vegetables. Live in a city? See number 2.
2) Urban Farms
If you are city bound, have no fear. Cities often recognize the importance of nature to human existence, and many make strides to incorporate nature in various ways. One of these ways is the urban farm. These farms are plots of lands run by the community. Typically you can purchase or rent a plot of land and can grow herbs, vegetables, fruits or flowers. This is a great way to again, get your hands dirty but also cultivate a sustainable local food supply.
Many places have trails or parks that can accommodate various levels of physical activity. This is one way to immerse yourself physically in nature, while also engaging in physical movement. Walking and hiking has been proven to have a positive effect on our physical and mental health, coupled with the outdoor setting, this activity becomes an easy way to improve our mood and wellbeing.
4) Thermal Comfort
Do you, or does anyone that you know, have to sleep with a fan on? This is also very common but another way biophilia inherently inserts its presence on our lives. The static sound of a fan along with the gentle breeze is reminiscent of wind, giving a sense of security and nearness with nature.
We have discussed on the blog how the sun can affect our Vitamin D levels and lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Interior lighting can also have a negative effect on us. In your workplace, source a cool bright white light to improve productivity. Natural light is the best in this situation.
6) Noise Machine
As mentioned previously, nature sounds engage biophilic effects. Nature noise machines have become mainstream, especially for those that have trouble sleeping. I recommend downloading an app like “Rain, Rain” , or getting a noise machine. This is my favorite noise machine ever, it has several noise settings including brown noise (which I utilize all the time) pink and white noise, as well as environmental sounds like rain and ocean waves.
7) Natural Scents
Long gone are the days where people are seeking out cheap candles with toxic chemicals. Today, we have many options when it comes to sourcing natural candles or incense. One company that is doing a great job of keeping things really clean and maintaining a great scent is Juniper Ridge. Their scientists backpack into different forests to pull oils directly from nature and into their product. Their incense has an earthy, mossy scent, that makes me feel like I am taking a walk in the woods. Or you can try burning Palo Santo wood, which has an amazing delicate aroma.
8) Using Textures and Colors in Your Home
I am not saying you need to go 100% boho with your interiors, but incorporating throw blankets, rugs, or even tiles reminiscent of nature can invoke biophilia. Think stone tiles, natural fiber materials, and natural light.
Nature can have a positive effect on us, the proof is all there! I have always cherished the time I can spend outside, so when I learned of this principle it hit me to the core. An actual word behind why I feel like a new women after camping or hiking. Or a reason behind why I wanted a picture of a deeply wooded forest as my screensaver.
Does this hit home to you too? Let me know what you’re thinking.