How can biophilia benefit our mental health and wellbeing?
‘Wellbeing’ is an umbrella term for all aspects of health and happiness, covering, social, physical, emotional, financial, community and environmental health. Whilst it's easy to feel guilty or even selfish about making time for yourself and prioritising your own health and happiness, its important to remember that we are all able to contribute better towards our families and communities when we are in a happy and balanced state.
There are many studies which support the link between green spaces, plants and scenes of nature with positive mental health and wellbeing. For example, people who use the natural environment for physical activity at least once per week have about half the risk of poor mental health compared with those who use other environments; and each extra weekly use of the natural environment for physical activity reduces the risk of poor mental health by a further 6%. Equally, 'blue spaces' (such as rivers, the ocean or aquariums) are just as important for our wellbeing: it is not the colour that matters but the opportunity to engage and connect with nature.
Biophilia, which translated from Latin means 'to love life', is a term that was first coined by psychologist Erich Fromm and was then popularised by Edward O. Wilson. It describes how humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. There are several ways we can re-connect with nature, within both our home and workspaces. Adding plants to an indoor environment has several key benefits for both our physical and mental wellbeing; according to a recent survey by Arboretum, 42% of 2,000 participants said that being around plants improved their mental health. Plants also help to purify the air by releasing oxygen via photosynthesis and recent research suggests that even just looking at plants can help the brain to produce more serotonin, which has a calming effect on the mind. It's also been suggested that exposure to indoor nature (INE) can increase dopamine production, which improves wellbeing through positive mood and reduced stress. Moreover, looking after plants can be a great distraction from work or any other sources of anxiety and are a great tool to engage children.
As aforementioned, blue spaces are just as valuable as green spaces in terms of how they can benefit our mental health. Aquariums feature vibrant colours, contrasting textures and many forms of fish and other aquatic life. Bright colours, in particular, help to improve our mood as our perception of what is beautiful is closely associated with our ancestral instinct to identify resources for survival. This positive correlation with bright colours, beauty and resources leads to our brains producing dopamine as a positive reinforcement in the presence of nature.
Just like plants or other natural installations, aquariums can be really educational and engaging for children as it gives them the opportunity to study biodiversity and learn about taking care of living things. Tending to an aquarium can be extremely rewarding; as the ecosystem and animals within the tank grow, the greater your sense of fulfilment will be. Plus, nurturing other forms of life promotes a sense of empathy through care which causes your brain to release the bonding hormone, oxytocin. Aquariums make excellent focus objects for meditation practice, which helps to improve your clarity of thought and repair mental fatigue. Using a visual stimulus such as an aquarium helps to anchor the mind and enter an introspective state. Meditating in an environment that is rich with nature can help to amplify these benefits and improve your levels of concentration.
Lastly, an easy way to reconnect with nature is by letting in as much natural light as possible into your home or workspace, as this helps to regulate your mood and circadian rhythms. If possible, try working in a room with plenty of windows or somewhere that provides you with a view of nature. A positive outcome from the recent lockdown measures has seen many of us spend an increased amount of time in our gardens or in other outdoor green spaces. This is an important natural stress reliever improving both mental and physical health as spending more time outdoors boosts your body's production of vitamin D. Exposure to natural sunlight is extremely important for Vitamin D production which supports healthy bones, blood cells, and your overall immune system. It also helps your body absorb more of certain minerals, like calcium and phosphorus.
It's undeniable that being around nature and plants can be extremely uplifting for humans and can really help to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing. Whether you prefer tending to your aquarium or exploring the great outdoors, everyone can benefit from spending more time in the presence of nature.