Mental Health Pandemic
In 2012 huge 18-wheeler trucks are hauling psychotropic medications all over the American interstates and Canadian provincial highways in an effort to help North Americans deal with the fallout from modern life: 12 tons of the four major anti-anxiety medications annually, 38 tons of the most popular ADHD drug alone, 7 tons of sleeping pills, and 150 tons of antidepressants. Physicians wrote 400 million prescriptions for psychotropic drugs in 2009, four times more than two decades ago, and enough to provide a script for every man, woman, and child in the United States and Canada. Since then, the use of these medications and diagnoses of mental health disorders have exponentially increased.
Nature-deprived, overstimulated and dumber ?
Our connection to nature is right there in our DNA: that is the essence of the biophilia hypothesis – the idea that humans are genetically predisposed to be attracted to nature, inherently love the natural world and have innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.
Scientific researchers are investigating nature’s role in mental health at a time when humans are more distanced from the natural world than ever before.
The results suggest that we have completely underestimated the way in which the human brain and body are influenced by the natural worlds of water, vegetation, and animals.
Japanese research suggests also that nature deprivation may have wide-ranging effects on the immune system.
The journalist Richard Loof introduced the term Nature-Deficit Disorder in his book The Last child in the Woods.
Between 1970 and 2000 US children decreased 1/2 x their time spend outdoors and increased 3x Obesity and 40 x the used of Ritalin. The average screen time for an average teenager is 7.7h, according to JAMA Pediatrics (July 2022)
There are now apps to help get children out and yet, they have less outdoor exposure compared to chicken and prison inmates.
The problem of multitasking and overstimulation in the 21st century is in our faces.
The consequences: lowered concentration and attention, increased fatigue and decreased cognitive efficiency in general. Getting dumber ?
Recently Norwegian statisticians discovered that the Flynn effect (the observation that the IQ is continuously rising since the beginning of the 20th century) was no longer working. On the contrary, some countries have even recorded slightly declining IQ scores since then. To this day, researchers are still puzzling over the question: Why are we getting dumber?
Many neurobiologists and psychologists suspect that digitization and changes in the media landscape could have a negative impact on IQ scores. Increased screen time and constant accessibility via smartphones have been proven to reduce our ability to concentrate. Our brains are simply overtaxed. External biological factors could also have an impact on intelligence, such as pollution (micro-plastic, GMO, etc.), decreasing quality of food and more.
Unplugging from highly-stimulating technology and connecting to Nature is calming the brain – the subgenual prefrontal cortex (associated with negative self-thoughts and emotional regulation) quiets down.
Your brain on nature
“Being in the presence of nature light up our brains in the same way as the faces of those we love…When we are fully immersed in the wild we become the best version of ourselves.”
Aristotle, Beethoven, Darwin, Roosevelt, Tesla, Einstein all pointed the link between creativity, health and being in nature.
Research indicated that even 1 min of experience of nature-induced awe is associated with an increase of generosity /kindness/compassion that has significant positive relational/social, even environmental consequences.
Florence Williams’ work The 3-Day Effect: How Nature Calms Your Brain demonstrates the process of gradual re-calibration, getting a respite from the multitasking, lowering brain activity and restoring cognitive functions: short-term memory; enhanced working memory; better problem solving; creativity.
Nature Prescription Side effects :
Increase of Vitamin D in your body
Increase of positive mood via increased serotonin levels (“a happy chemical”)
Increase of immune cells: 40 % after 3 days exposure
Increase of focus and concentration
Increase of sleep quality
Increase of creativity and insight
Increase of generosity
Increase of sense of connection
Decrease of Cortisol levels, anxiety, stress and depression
Decrease of risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, Multiple sclerosis and some forms of Cancer
Decrease of obesity
Decrease of level of technology related cognitive load (over-stimulation)
Our perception of stress, our mental state, our immunity, our happiness, and our resiliency are all chemically influenced by the nervous system and its response to the natural environment.
The brain is absolutely influenced by nature, and it is no longer an option to write off the philosophers and poets as mere romantic dreamers.
The mortality of individuals, nations, and even the planet itself is dependent on the recognition and acceptance that nature is part of us.