Connecting with nature: the ‘biophilia effect’
A year of lockdown taught us that our connection with the outdoors and particularly with nature is not only important and deep rooted, but biologically hardwired.
Notice the effect of stepping outside – we breath more deeply, relax our shoulders and tune in to the sounds, sights and smells of our immediate environment.
As Dr Qing Li explains, ‘Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, refresh and rejuvenate us. We know this deep in our bones. It is like an intuition, or an instinct, a feeling that is sometimes hard to describe’. We become more mindful, our perspective begins to open up; we might even feel more ‘at home’, more ‘ourselves’.
Connecting to nature
Scientists call this the ‘biophilia effect’ or ‘biophilia hypothesis’; our evolutionary connection to the natural environment and the idea that as humans, we possess an innate tendency to seek relationships with nature and other forms of life. In fact the word biophilia comes from the Greek, ‘love of life and the living world’. In other words, our bodies know that we are part of nature. It’s where we came from and what we are connected to at a level beyond the cognitive.
American biologist W.O Wilson, who made popular the concept in the early 1980s, suggests that human identity and personal fulfilment are dependent upon our relationship with nature and that we are genetically programmed to connect with the ‘more than human’ world. We are comfortable in nature because as a species, this is where we have lived for most of our existence. So it’s in our DNA to love the natural world!
Health and wellbeing
Clemens G. Arvay in his book The Biophilia Effect: The Healing Bond Between Humans and Nature explains how plants and landscapes communicate with us at the level of our unconscious, reduce stress and boost concentration while Dr Qing Li (Into the Forest) in his research into the healing effects of nature suggests that forest bathing can have a positive effect e.g. cancer, diabetes, stress etc.
The research tells us what we have known instinctively for generations, that the colours, patterns, sounds and smells of nature reduce stress and fill us with a sense of awe and wonder.
So being outdoors improves our cognitive function and our physical health. It’s why in lockdown the outdoors and nature in particular has has played such an important role in supporting our psychological wellbeing.
What if I can’t get outside?
5 things you can do indoors to create the biophilia effect indoors, at home or at work
- Introduce house plants into those spaces where you spend most time and want to be most relaxed.
- Orientate yourself so you have a view from a window (Ulrich’s research in the 1980s shows that patients with a view of a tree from a hospital window recovered more quickly than those with no view of the outside).
- Swap plastic objects in your home or work space for ones made of natural materials e.g. shelving, chairs, ornaments and create soft, organic lines rather than square corners.
- Include images of nature in your environment e.g. pictures on the wall, natural patterns on soft furnishings; use greens and blues in your colour scheme.
- Think beyond the visual and introduce the sounds or scents of nature into your home or work space. I’ve included below a couple of links to soundscapes which you could listen to either in the background or purposefully. You’ll be pleased to know that even the pitter patter of rain can help us benefit from the biophilia effect!