Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the middle of downtown traffic. The sound of the loud motorcycle engine next to you. The car horn of a hurried gentlemen two cars behind you. The “tick, tick, tick” of the crosswalk meter counting down from 10. Put yourself in this busy place for 5 minutes. How do you feel at the end of 5 minutes? Anxious, worried, annoyed, or stressed? Don’t fret you are not alone. This is a totally normal response subconsciously ingrained in our brains. Even a doctor’s office with naked white walls can stir up these same emotions.
Believe it or not, the environment we are surrounded by can have a large impact on our emotional state, physical well being, healing, and even our immune system. I’m sure we have all experienced a time in our life when what we saw or heard considerably changed our mood or emotion. At that moment, our minds and bodies experience much more than just a “mood swing.” Our nervous, endocrine and immune systems were all compromised in that 5 second experience.
When feeling stressed, bogged down, injured, or angry, what types of coping strategies do you incorporate in your life to help subside these effects? Are they positive or negative? Like most humans we tend to lean more toward the negative influences without even realizing the choice we decided upon until our symptoms continue to arise.
Today I want to discuss one positive coping strategy that is available to every individual, free of cost. No I am not here to promote that next “fad pill” to help your aches and pains go away, or a sedative that will help take your mind off the stress of everyday life. I would like to introduce the word “Biophilia” into
your life today. What does the word Biophilia mean? An innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world. Wait, what? It basically means you are influenced by the surrounding environment more than you actually think. For example, if an experiment were to be performed on employees that face a plain white wall packed with cubicles from one end to the other, compared to employees that face a window that engulfs a healing garden, it is suggested the individuals that face the window would have a higher productivity rate and positive emotional state. Ding ding ding! Perfect strategy for business employers to raise their employees productivity rate. Even adding a plant in the room if the option for a window is not possible would have this same effect.
There have been studies performed, such as the one mentioned above, involving how nature can actually promote healing. One such experiment involved patients who had recently undergone gallbladder surgery, in which half of them had a view of trees and the other half had a view of a wall. According to the physician who conducted the study, Robert Ulrich, the patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative side effects, and spent less time in the hospital. Even studies taken as far as measuring brain activity through an fMRI have been performed. When participants viewed images of urban scenes, researchers found increased activity in the anterior temporal pole, the part of the brain that is associated with negative emotions and feelings such as anger and depression. But, when these same individuals viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain such as the basal ganglia, associated with emotional stability, empathy, love, and pleasure, lit up.
Being a practicing Physical Therapist Assistant, I encounter patients on a regular basis that are experiencing the same emotions as you did when you first began reading this article. Their blood pressure and heart rate are elevated, stress and anxiety levels are bursting at the seams, and depression has likely set in due to the extreme pain they are experiencing. It is incredibly important to me to make sure my patients feel comfortable while being treated. Walking into a therapy clinic that has white walls, a cold atmosphere, and uncomfortable chairs is likely to add to the extreme negative emotions these patients are already experiencing. Adding some soothing paint on the white walls and adding pictures that immerse the patients in nature, placing plants in empty corners and bare counter tops can easily change negative emotions to feelings of euphoria.
Imagine the positive effects you feel when the brisk breeze caresses your skin, the sun warming your body, the smell of a wooded area, or the taste of grilled Nebraska beef on your lips. Did your body begin to relax and mind feel at ease? During that very moment your blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety and stress levels have all dropped. Here, at Complete Physical Therapy, we strive to create an inviting atmosphere that will make you feel as you did in the previous dialogue. The warm tan walls are lined with pictures of warm beaches, wooded streams, sunsets, waterfalls, and mountain ranges. Not only do the pictures create a relaxing domain but the bountiful plants and wooded greenery seen through wide open windows promote the proper balance for a speedy recovery.
The next time you are feeling bitterness, resentment, apprehensiveness, or uptight get away from the negativity of the downtown atmosphere described in the beginning and surround yourself with the serenity of nature. I have attached a website that will provide you pictures of nature and animals to reduce the stress you are feeling about the next project that is due by the end of the day or the extra hours needed to put into work this week. Take a break from whatever you are currently doing, put on some soothing music, and check out these fascinating images of tranquility.
Sources utilized during this blog to gain relevant information: