We are bombarded with examples of extreme incivility and violence in our society seemingly on a daily basis: mass murders in schools, movie theatres, malls, as well as hostility and violence in the workplace that spills over into the community. Incivility and other stress events in the workplace and the community can build up causing one to feel like life is spiraling out of control. Stress that builds up without opportunities for coping with it can result in violence. Stress and the accompanying health problems if ignored, are often treated with pharmaceuticals, which are not the best option. Our communities have become so toxic that our contact with nature, a significant stress reducing environment, has been obliterated by noise, light and air pollution. Research is revealing that an effective way to deal with stress and the associated health problems is spending time in nature. Nature offers a balm to help cope with the dizzying amount of anger, violence and incivility that seems to have taken grip of many aspects of our world.
Nature in the work environment
Workplace fatigue is the source of many stress related issues impacting physical health and psychological well-being. Information overload destroys the ability to concentrate, causing fatigue and making us more susceptible to losing control. This can impact the ability to communicate ideas, overall work performance, relationships and even quality of sleep.
Studies have found that spending time in nature lowers blood pressure, pulse rate and heart rate variability (Tsunetsugu et al., 2010). A study by researchers at Chiba University found that spending time in a forest setting can reduce psychological stress, depression and hostility, while simultaneously improving sleep, and increasing feelings of vigor and liveliness (Tsunetsugu et al., 2010). A recent study also found that exposure to nature in the workplace reduced stress (Wight, Chen, Dodd & Weiler, 2011). In this study, there was a significant, negative association between nature contact and stress, and nature contact and general health complaints. The results indicate that as workday nature contact increased, perceived stress and generalized health complaints decreased.
The link between mental fatigue and anger
A symptom of mental fatigue may be a heightened likelihood for outbursts of anger and possibly violence (Kaplan, 1987). Mental fatigue contributes to aggressive behavior by the impact it has on cognitive processing, because information processing plays an important role in managing social situations (Kuo & Sullivan, 2001). Kuo & Sullivan, found that nearby nature reduces aggression by supporting attentional functioning and that the ability and willingness to engage in activity and behavior that is reflective, and effortful decreases with mental fatigue. They also found that social behavior when fatigued is likely to become more thoughtless, tactless, and unstrategic, with conflicts spiraling out of control. The coarsening of the public interactions on the road, in the mall, and in the hall could be the result of people with brains that are frazzled and the overflow being angry reactions.
The need to escape
With violence and incivility continuing to rise, time in nature and green breaks may offer a way to help people cope with fatigue. Forest therapy such as walking and meditating in a natural area for a few minutes a day can help in reducing stress. A 2012 study found that meditative walking had a greater psychological impact than athletic walking, and walking in a forest had a greater impact on happiness (Yoon-Kyung Shin et al., 2012). Finding a place to observe nature and write in a reflective journal can help release frustrations and think through problems.
We have to make space in our mind and our life for restoration in nature. Many people underestimate the changes in mood and brain function that occur after escaping a busy urban setting to enjoy the peace that can be experienced in nature. It is in these times that we will find renewed vitality and inspiration. Communities and organizations should explore ways to introduce how to experience the restorative health benefits of spending time in nature. Innovative approaches include encouraging walking or hiking meetings instead of sitting in an office to talk, or offering green space near the workplace to allow a brief escape. Communities can offer programs on the health benefits of contact with nature and link it with parks and recreation and community health initiatives. Nature offers us an escape from stress before it spirals out of control. Unfortunately, the noise and pace of a frenetic world cause many to ignore the opportunity, or worse, not even know it exists.
Kaplan, S. (1987). Mental fatigue and the designed environment. . In J. Harvey & D. Henning (Eds.). Public environments (pp. 55-60). Edmond, OK: Environmental Design Research Association.
Kuo, F. (2001). Coping with poverty-impacts of environment and attention in the inner city. Environment and Behavior, 33, 5-34.
Tsunetsugu, Y., Park, B., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). Trends in research related to “Shinrin yoku” (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan. Environmental Health Preventive Medicine, 15, 27-37.
Wight, E., Chen, W., Dodd, V. & Weiler, R. (2011). Healthy workplaces: The effect of nature contact at work on employee health and stress. Public Health Reports, volume 126.
Yoon-Kyung Shin, Dai Jin Kim, Kyunghee Jung-Choi, Young-Ju Son, Jung-Wan Koo, Jung-Ah Min & Jeong-Ho Chae (2012): Differences of psychological effects between meditative and athletic walking in a forest and gymnasium, Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research, DOI:10.1080/02827581.2012.706634