When they designed the sixteen 10-story buildings called Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, it was with greenery and nature in mind. But over time, some of these green areas were paved over with asphalt, while others weren’t. This made it perfect for Ming’s studies.
Ming Kuo, a psychologist who has spent more than 30 years studying the effects of nature on humans, and her team, asked the residents of these buildings questions like if they spoke with their neighbors, knew their neighbors by name, and could rely on them in emergencies like watching their kids if they were away.
What she found was that the residents who lived around more greenery were more likely to say yes.
It seemed that they were more mentally equipped to handle difficult social situations, like dealing with neighborhood emergencies.
Ming was a skeptic. As someone who had always thought of trees, flowers, and grass as nice-to-haves and not necessities, she needed more evidence.
She looked at the crime statistics of this area from the Chicago Police Department and found that there was less conflict among people who lived in the greener buildings. The statistics surprised and convinced her.
Residents of Robert Taylor Homes were mentally stronger and had less conflict with one another if they lived in one of the buildings that had more greenery.
Ming’s findings matched that of Attention Restoration Theory, which says that people who have access to nature are less mentally fatigued.
Another way to put this is people who are around more nature are mentally stronger and better at dealing with tough situations.
More Nature = Less Mental Fatigue = More Mental Strength
Nature helps us recover from work, from the kind of directed focus towards tasks that makes us exhausted by the end of the day.
You rejuvenate when you let your focus drift towards greenery and nature. It works because it takes little mental effort. It’s recovery time for your brain.
What studies like Ming’s tells us is that being around nature substantially improves our mental capacity to deal with life.
Looking at clouds moving across the sky and at green landscapes, even from indoors, and your heart rate will go down. You’ll start to relax. Your mental fatigue will subside. And you’ll become better at dealing with setbacks, difficult situations, and concentrate better for the rest of your day.
Rig Your Environment for Mental Strength
Knowing this, you can make nature a bigger part of your family’s daily life and rig your environment for mental toughness.
You don’t have to commit to spending your family vacations camping or bringing your kids out to a park that’s an hour out of your way every day. Instead, think of the small ways you can incorporate more nature into your family life.
6 Easy Ways to Increase Your Mental Strength (with Nature)
1. Bring Greenery into Your Home
- Get some indoor plants. Consider low maintenance plants that will thrive without much of your attention. Snake Plants, Peace Lily, Yucca, Air plants, Calathea, African Violets, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
2. Look up and Stare at Clouds and Tree Canopies when you have a break.
- Take breaks and look out at nature scenes. If not possible, let your attention drift towards plants in your immediate environment.
- You can teach your children to do the same. Encourage them to look to greenery and nature when they’re feeling anxious or tired.
3. Use Forest Scents (Phytoncides)
- Spritz yourself with these essential aromatic compounds that we associate with the forest. You can diffuse or make your own spray with essential tree oils. Try Pine, Cypress, Idaho Balsam Fir, Palo Santo, and Sacred Frankincense for their therapeutic qualities.
- Fact: These forest scents increase the number of natural killer cells in your blood, strengthening your immune system.
4. Watch Calming Nature Documentaries
- Shows like Planet Earth and Blue Planet don’t just offer educational value for your family, but they’re also an easy way to let your attention drift towards nature. You can find it at Amazon and on Netflix.
- Fact: Just seeing pictures of nature can calm your nervous system activity and your blood pressure.
5. Play Nature Sounds in the Background
- Play nature sounds while you work. Think gentle streams and chirping birds. It can help lower nervous system activity associated with stress.
6. Take Regular Walks in Nature with your Family
- It’s easy to be busy with tasks and errands on the weekends, but taking regular walks with your family will help everyone be better at what they’re doing at home, at work, and at school. Not only will everyone feel better, but the physiological effects tend to last.
What do you do to connect with nature?