Nature Works – the neuroscience behind nature

Nature works on our brain at a neurological level, improving not only our happiness and calmness but our ability to concentrate and be productive.

As part of a new series of videos on my YouTube channel and on social media (@ThatJezRose) celebrating #WorkplaceWednesday; how nature can help businesses thrive and employees feel great, and just what impact does nature have on our health, wellbeing and behaviour?

There are many things that stimulate our brains to produce “feel good” chemicals that in turn help us to feel happier, calmer and reduce stress – in turn allowing us to be more productive, focused and energised. Some of those are obviously chemical but there’s a whole host our body naturally produces and which can be stimulated by specific factors.

I believe one of the most remarkable things about nature, available to every employer – and employee! – to harness is the entirely free ability to improve and change human behaviour. Reconnecting harmoniously with the natural world, both in and out of work results in healthier, happier, productive, efficient and ultimately more profitable environments. Its simplicity is often its downfall, being rejected by senior leadership for something ethereal or non-scientific, however, far from it – within nature lies some of the most remarkable understanding of how humans work…

Alpha brain waves are technically “neural oscillations”: think sound waves, or the way water in a glass very gently tremors if you nudge the table. Those waves are dominant during quietly flowing thoughts, like self-reflection, or when you gently think to yourself and the alpha waves  signs really the resting state for the brain. The importance for this article and relevance for us when considering nature is that the presence of alpha waves aid overall mental coordination, calmness, alertness – and learning.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and is very often called “the happy chemical” because its presence makes us feel happier and with a greater sense of wellbeing. Studies since the 1970s have demonstrated how being in and around natural environments; from trees and woodland, to green spaces; gardening, or simply having access to images of natural landscapes, trigger the production of serotonin.

The hormone oxytocin is released from the brain into the blood and acts as a neurotransmitter. It’s triggered by a number of things, including close social contact (including sexual intimacy and when we’re in the presence of those we find attractive), but interestingly also when we are in the presence of nature, likely because of an innate connection with the natural world that leaves us feeling connected.

The brain science behind nature and the intrinsic impact it has on our health, wellbeing and behaviour is a fascinating area and one which has little research compared to, for example, pharmaceutical interventions for depression. Despite the striking imbalance, the evidence is clear: nature helps relieve depression and is more efficacious in doing so than any medication, which, at best, for the stark vast majority, provides only a placebo effect.

It’s time we all, but especially employers and senior leadership teams, started taking nature more serious; promoting the connection with it and reuniting those in their charge with positive and effective ways to feel – and work – better.

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