Mind Matters: Humans need nature

Go take a hike! We talk about “human nature” a lot, but it turns out humans themselves need nature.

Researchers are finding that, all across the life span, being outside in natural settings, walking, playing, just sitting, helps both brain and body functions.

The response by some to these findings may be “Well, duh!” It may be common sense and intuitive to know that humans need nature, the outdoors, green space, trees, parks, and so on. However, we may need the research to recognize that the need for nature goes deeper than we realize.

There is a burgeoning scientific field called ecotherapy that makes the connection between time spent in natural settings and the reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression.

A study done in 2015 compared the brain activity of healthy people who had walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. Both walks produced similar physiological results. However, the brain activities of the two groups showed a marked difference: those people who did the walks in nature manifested lower activity in the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that can go into overdrive when a person is undergoing high levels of stress, producing a feedback loop of negative thoughts.

Even when we can’t take a walk in nature to quell the ruminating mind, we can listen to recordings of nature sounds, or look at pictures of natural settings. Trees and plantings in our environment make a difference too. What we see from our window at home or at work is important. Persons in a skilled nursing facility may only have access to the nature they view out their windows. We should make it count.

On the other hand, an urban child needs a place to run and play. In fact, one study shows that 20 minutes in a park setting helps elevate attention span. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that both children and teens engage in 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Yet there appears to be a decline in outdoor play. City and municipal planners, hopefully, are taking note of the research: Humans need nature! Duh!

Suggestions for further reading:

About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.



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