The environment’s effects on mental health

How anxiety helped us survive, and why it stresses us out

(Photo: Pixabay)

Despite the urbanization and industrialization of the modern man, there existed a time in which man and nature were one. In order for humans to coexist with nature and each other, we have developed a complex and sophisticated social means for cooperation in order to survive. Many mood disorders such as depression and anxiety may even be attributed to our removal from our natural environment while still possessing this primordial hardwiring.اضافة اعلان

John S. Price, who has researched our evolution from prehistoric to modern-day, explains anxiety disorders in function of how our ancestors used it to survive. He hypothesized that anxiety and depression work in conjunction with one another in order to form community hierarchy in a term he dubbed as “functional agonism”. Based on his hypothesis, he goes on to explain that depression helps to prevent rebellion by essentially numbing an individual, and generalized anxiety promotes reconciliation in order to find safety within a community.

Since nature was an integral part of human survival it should come as no surprise that being removed from our natural environment has subtle ramifications on our mental health. In a meta-review published in 2010, research was done in order to investigate the impacts of nature experience on physical and mental health. In this study, self-reported emotions were recorded and evaluated for statistical significance. The criteria included revitalization, anxiety, anger, fatigue, and depression, all of which had shown improvement.

What happens inside our bodies?

In our day-to-day lives, we are bombarded with emotions and process them subconsciously. Emotions like fear, anxiety, stress, depression, and lethargy are all a part of our daily lives. From a physiological standpoint our emotions can be explained by the inner workings of our body as well as the situations surrounding it. Within our bodies we have something called the autonomous nervous system (ANS). The ANS is divided in two divisions, the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is associated with increased heart rate, dilation of the pupils, inhibited salivation, dilation of the airway, and inhibited digestion and urination. All these responses are in order for your body to utilize and maximize the resources at your body’s disposal and is commonly referred to as fight or flight.

Our fight or flight response was an important part of ensuring our survival in ancient times, but unfortunately in modern days this mechanism is responsible for many mood disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder. Furthermore, our everyday emotions may be cause for an inappropriate fight or flight response. You may notice this you have to give a presentation. Nervousness, the pit in your stomach, difficulty swallowing, sweating, and a pale face are all a direct result of the ANS interpreting your stage fright as a life-threatening situation. Evidence has also shown that our SNS can be stimulated entirely voluntarily by thoughts or even facial expressions.

Fortunately, our PNS can also be easily triggered. Our PNS has the opposite response of the SNS and is responsible for taking our bodies from the heightened state of the SNS, back to our normal state. Calming thoughts or even a sustained forced smile can help revert our bodies back to its normal state.   

How can nature help?

Numerous studies investigating nature’s impact on our mood and mental health have been conducted. Although there has yet to be a consensus on the reason for nature’s positive impact, most all studies agree that there is one. The positive effects of nature can even be found in highly urbanized areas. A separate meta-review noted important studies that assessed nature’s impact on general well-being. One such study identified that patients recovering from surgeries who were placed in rooms with scenic views recovered faster and required less pain management. Natural views from windows were also shown to reduce stress levels in workers as well as greater life-satisfaction and attentional capacity in residents. Additionally, several studies found that small areas of greenspace including gardens were associated with physical and emotional health.

Nature in Jordan

Despite Jordan’s geographical location, it is home to some stunning greenery. To the north, the Ajloun Forest Reserve is a nature reserve spanning Established and managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) since 1988, the RSCN understood the importance of conserving Jordan’s scarce forested area. Aside from vegetation, the Ajloun Forest Reserve is home to many species local wildlife including wild boar, golden jackals, red fox, striped hyenas, Persian squirrels, Indian crested porcupines, and local wolves. More impressively, the RSCN began a captive breeding program of the roe deer, an animal locally extinct to Jordan due to 200 years of deforestation.

For nature that is a little closer to home, the King Hussein Park in Amman is a wonderful location. The park contains plenty of greenery that is perfectly accented by marble. It also hosts jungle gyms for children and areas for sport, making it the ideal choice for a weekend family outing.

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