Technology and Mental Health: Will Well-Being Suffer as Nature Words Disappear?

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“When we look at things that improve well-being, I think nature should be a well-being prescription for everybody.” ~ Pelin Kesebir

Most books, songs, and movies these days are about the human experience. Some are positive, some are negative, and some are down-right raunchy. But what about books, songs, and movies that explore the nature experience? When was the last time a song about a robin or a chickadee made the Top 40 list?  What recent book about nature made it on the New York Times Best Seller list? What recent block buster celebrated nature and the environment? A recent study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science reveals a consistent drop in books, music, and films that reference the natural world.

“This decline implies foregone physical and psychological benefits from our engagement with nature because cultural products like books and movies are the exact agents of socialization that can evoke curiosity, respect and concern for the natural world,” says Pelin Kesebir, a social psychologist and assistant scientist at Center for Healthy Minds.

It’s no secret that electronic gadgets have become an integral part of our everyday life. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, video games, and television occupy our time more and more with each passing year. All this technology is at our fingertips to help us connect with the world around us—and help us feel connected with the world around us. Sound comforting? Maybe. But what is all this accessible technology doing for our well-being?

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Personal technologies are encouraging people, young and old, to spend more time indoors than outdoors. As a society, we are unintentionally distancing ourselves from our natural environment. This behaviour has resulted in the sharp decline since the 1950s of nature-related words that spans music, movies, and literature. The disappearance of nature words from these cultural works may affect future generations. If children don’t see, hear, or read about nature through these mediums, their interest and appreciation of nature will diminish. If this happens, how will children grow to understand the importance of nature and the environment? Who or what will inspire our youth to become environmentalists?

“There is a cost to not being connected to nature. There is a physical cost, and there is a psychological cost. And there’s a huge cost to our planet,” Kesebir says. “It is crucial to realize the costs and to do something about it. Do one thing to connect yourself and especially your children to nature.”

Here are a few simple ways for adults and children to nurture their connection with nature, each taking less than a minute per day:

  • Stop and listen to the birds chirping
  • Look to the skies and notice cloud formations
  • Feel the breeze as it caresses your skin
  • Notice all the colours that nature has to offer
  • Breathe in the freshness of the great outdoors

Research is proving time and again that higher levels of well-being are linked to natural world exposure. For instance, a patient’s recovery experience after surgery is better if they can see trees, shrubbery, and flowers from their hospital window. Office workers who have a window with natural views experience less stress than their peers who don’t have a window in their office.

The next time you feel yourself starting to get stressed, make a point of allowing yourself to be exposed to nature, even if it means momentarily gazing at a painting of a natural setting. This simple action can result in a quicker stress recovery time, and better overall mental health.

Make nature an important part of your everyday life. Be kind to you.

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