By Tom Bivins, Head of Ergonomics and Wellbeing at Vita Health Group

Nature is a truly wonderful thing, isn’t it? This month, spring has truly sprung and it feels fitting to focus on the positive impacts of the natural world on our wellbeing. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence in the relatively new field of ‘green ergonomics’ that highlights the hugely beneficial impact that nature has on our occupational wellbeing, too.

Five surprising ways nature supports us

Nature has the power to positively impact our mental and physical wellbeing. Here’s how:

  1. Nature restores: We all know - anecdotally at least- that being outside and getting fresh air has a positive impact on our wellbeing, but there are also many quantitative studies that back this up.. Certainly, spending time in nature and viewing natural scenes can help to provide a respite for our overactive and busy minds, allowing us to reset and calm before we start a new task.
  2. Nature heals: Exposure to nature not only makes us feel better emotionally, but it can also contribute to our physical wellbeing too. For instance, it can work towards reducing blood pressure, bringing down our heart rate and can even limit our stress hormones too.
  3. Nature calms: Being in nature, or even just by looking at photos of nature, we can reduce feelings of anger, alleviate stress, and reduce fear. Natural scenes tend to calm us and help to provide feelings of peace so that we can truly switch off.
  4. Nature connects: Not only does nature connect us to the world around us, but it can also do two other wonderful things too. Firstly, it connects us to ourselves, allowing us to centre our thoughts and reset our feelings. Secondly, nature can also bring us together with others. Through walking with others, doing gardening and outdoor projects together, we can feel far more at ease with one another, build relationships and reduce any feelings of loneliness or isolation.
  5. Nature relaxes: Nature can help us to relax and take our minds off any negative feelings we might be experiencing. It can even reduce feelings of pain too. We are genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other natural elements captivating. As such we tend to find our attention is more engaged by natural scenes and, as a result, we are distracted from our pain and discomfort.

Nature’s ability to reduce pain

Nature doesn’t just have the ability to improve our everyday living. Did you know that patients in hospital have been found to tolerate pain better when they have a view of nature? 

A study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery, half of whom had a view of trees and half had a view of a wall, revealed that the patients with the view of trees tolerated their pain better. They also spent less time in a hospital. Other studies have also shown similar results. Research done in hospitals, offices and schools found that having a simple plant in a room can have a significant positive impact on stress and anxiety. 

With this in mind, why not pick up a plant for your home office this week? Witness the positive impact nature can have on your mindset. 

What do you do if you don’t have an outdoor space? 

As the days get longer and the nights get lighter, it’s the perfect time to get outdoors. Getting fresh air, at least once a day, is essential to our wellbeing and mental outlook. However, ff you’re struggling to get outside, or perhaps you don’t have a garden or outdoor space nearby, then there are many ways you can bring the outdoors, indoors. 

  1. Buy flowers or potted plants for your home: Apart from being aesthetically pleasing, some plants, such as Mother-in-laws tongue (Sansevieria Trifasciata), are actually rated by NASA for their air purifying qualities and are credited with removing benzene, formaldehyde and other harmful toxins out the air.
  2. Create a display of natural items: This could include shells, plants, bark or driftwood to bring the natural world inside your home. Not only will it be pleasing to look at but focusing your attention on collecting the items and doing the arrangement will likely be soothing too and ensure you have some time away from your screen.
  3. Let as much natural light in your house as possible: Exposure to natural light not only helps our bodies produce Vitamin D, but it improves our sleep patterns, helps us to focus, and can even make us happier too. Ensuring we get enough light is key to our physical and psychological wellbeing. 

How to use nature to reduce overwhelm and stress

If you start to feel overwhelmed or stressed, try turning to nature to relax. 

Take photos of your favourite places in nature. Then use these as backgrounds on your mobile phone or computer screen - or you could even go old school and print them out which is our preference. 

You might also like to listen to some natural sounds on your phone too. There are some great apps out there that do just this. We recommend the following three apps to relax and recalibrate: 

  1. Rainy Mood: This app allows you to listen to rain, thunderstorms and lightening sounds. Not only does it relieve tension and anxiety, but it can also help those suffering from insomnia to relax into sleep. This app even contains a natural white noise facility that helps in getting rid of any unwanted sounds around us should you live on a busy road. 
  2. Atmosphere: This is a great app for natural sounds. It is custom-made to help people relieve stress and unwind. A key feature of this app is that it allows users to import their own personalised audios and mix them with various default acoustics available within the app itself. It’s pretty smart really. 
  3. BBC Sounds The Mindful Mix: This music app has some wonderful natural sounds incorporated within relaxing music. It even integrates the renowned shipping forecast into its mixes too which is a delight to listen to and will allow you to drift off. 

How a human-nature connection improves occupational wellbeing

It is becoming more and more evident that nature is beneficial to our occupational wellbeing. The benefits include reduced blood pressure and muscle tension, improved concentration, happiness, and reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue. To reap these rewards try to think how you can better create a human-nature connection in your working day.  

If possible, work near a window so you can see outside, or now the weather has improved, work outside to feel the breeze and smell the air.  Take brief moments throughout the day to recline in your chair, look up at the sky and just pause and reflect on nature - this also gives you a change to process any thoughts you might be having.  

Another option is to hang nature-based artwork in your office, or spend a few minutes browsing nature photos online for a few minutes. If you’re having a break from work, tend to some plants or walk on the grass and feel the earth beneath your feet.

By Tom Bivins, Head of Ergonomics and Wellbeing at Vita Health Group