Would you like to know my favourite programme on TV at the moment? It is called ‘The Repair Shop’ and it is on the BBC. Each week the programme tells several different stories of ordinary people, who bring their treasured, but damaged, air looms along to be repaired and restored by the expert craftspeople in the shop. Just recently an old doll was repaired. It was the last gift given to the owner by her father. Her memories of that time in her childhood were painful and she wanted the doll to be restored, so she could keep a connection to a much-loved father. I enjoy the programme because the craftsmen and women are repairing more than just the item. They are repairing memories too.
I particularly enjoy watching Steve Fletcher, a specialist in watch repair and restoration. He skilfully fixes tiny and delicate mechanisms, by painstakingly tracing damage. It may be a broken gear, or a seized flywheel, or years of accumulated dirt that he needs to attend to, to have the finely tuned piece of engineering working as good as new. I always find it surprising how such a seemingly small problem can cause the whole mechanism to stop working.
Did you know that our bodies are a little like the beautifully crafted mechanisms inside a watch? Did you know that many of our modern lifestyle choices are causing untold damage to the finely balanced workings of our psychological health?
Why is modern life affecting our psychological health?
Research has shown that we have become an indoor generation. We work indoors for long hours. We exercise indoors and we spend our leisure time indoors. Large retail centres keep us separated from the outside. Computers and technology keep us locked in front of screens emitting unnatural blue light. This lack of exposure to quality natural light leads to a deficiency of Vitamin D, which has been shown to increase susceptibility to depression, weakened the immune system and cause other health challenges. People with low levels of Vitamin D are at a greater risk of viral respiratory tract infections like influenza. While, scientists in Denmark found a link between an increase in breast cancer cases for women, who worked night shifts long term.
Our efforts to sterilize and protect our children from ‘the dirty outside’ are weakening a generation’s immune system. Yet our homes and offices can be more polluted than outdoors, as manmade materials leak damaging chemical into the air leading to an increase in allergies and asthma. Fatigue levels increase, not through lack of sleep, but because we are breathing in impure air that circulates in air-conditioned spaces.
Watch this video to see how just a few minutes spent in nature can uplifting.
How Nature benefits our psychological health
Whether we like it or not we are connected to the natural rhythms of nature. The rotation of planet earth is hardwired into our bodies. We have a finely tuned biological mechanism – the circadian rhythm, which helps us to maintain good sleep patterns, regulate hormones, replicate DNA, and balance times of rest and activity. Time outside in natural daylight helps us to regulate this natural rhythm.
Jet lag is perhaps the most concrete illustration of how our bodies can be affected when our natural circadian rhythm is out of sync. We find ourselves wide-awake in the middle of the night or wretchedly exhausted during the day because our internal clock is set to a different daylight time zone. It cannot then be difficult to see the damage done to the internal body systems of permanently working at night or the challenges for those who live in extreme hemispheres with limited natural daylight in winter. Being outside in natural daylight also exposes us to the sun. Ideally, 10-30 minutes of the midday sun is all the body needs to make the necessary Vitamin D it needs to keep bones healthy.
Breathing in fresh air increases the levels of oxygen in our blood which scientists believe increases our serotonin levels and this contributes to our feelings of happiness. Certain types of nature smells can also have a positive effect on our well-being. Lavender has been shown to boost mood and support insomnia. I have found that basil has helped to relieve the fuzzy head feeling after a migraine and who does not smile at the smell of freshly cut grass? Further, the negative ions found in abundance around waterfalls, beaches and mountains activate a part of the nervous system, which calms the body and the mind.
Experiencing the natural rhythms and patterns of nature first hand can be restorative on our minds. For example, sitting on a beach and watching the sun slowly set or lying on our backs looking up as white clouds drift by has a calming effect on an overstretched and stressed brain. While opportunities to interact with nature, through a chance meeting with a curious Robin, provide the sense of being part of a greater whole and can help to counter loneliness.
Quick things to do to improve Physical and Psychological health
As we have seen too much time indoors can in the long term have a devastating effect on our physiological health but that reconnecting with nature and allowing our bodies to work in time with its natural internal rhythms can enable us to live much happier and contented lives.
- Make space in your day for time outside, 20 minutes is enough to boost your vitality levels.
- Expose yourself to daylight as much as possible. With the new opportunities of home working, this is an ideal time to consider your workspace. Can you work by a window or is it possible to work outside for some of the days.
- Try to exercise outside and leave the headphones at home. Allow all of your sense to align with nature, don’t block off the sounds with blasts from your phone.
- When you feel tired in the middle of the day, reach for a nature shot instead of a caffeine one. Open a window, take a short walk outside
- Can some small meetings or conversations be done outside? After a brisk walk around the park to blast a few creative ideas, you never know what nature might inspire?