Disconnect to connect

Updated: Aug 16

From the book ‘Lost Connections’ by Johann Hari we learnt that the way we live, our way of thinking, along with our biology, influences experiencing depression and anxiety levels that we see in today’s society. What we wanted to share with you, is the science behind why we need nature as part of the a solution to offer hope, aid or help with preventing the depressive and anxious states we, a friend or family member may be experiencing. Thankfully, there has been a bigger emphasis on mental health, and slowly there is less stigma and more confidence in talking about this subject with movements such as ‘Are you ok?’ . With this in mind, we want to share with you research to get you thinking ‘how much nature do I have in my life?’ and ‘Could I add more to help myself or someone else’s mental health?’ We’ll also be sharing some ideas on fun and easy ways you can incorporate more nature in your life.

As an Evolutionary Biologists at Oxford University, Isabel Behncke studies the way of human nature. One of her research pieces was studying baboons; those that resided in zoos and in their natural habitat. Interestingly, the behaviour observed by baboons in zoos that was viewed as ‘normal’ turned out to be significantly abnormal when comparing to those in the rainforest.

In the baboon community there is a clear hierarchy where there is a pack leader who can be challenged at any moment and unfortunately there is also the lower status of baboons in the pack. The baboons at the lower levels get picked on, get the least amount of food and get bullied physically. It’s common to see these baboons scratch themselves and stare aimlessly outwards when sitting with a group, and further, they stop grooming themselves and refuse for others to do so. At this status level, baboons are clearly in a depressed state. When comparing this group with baboons in the wild, the key difference is the level of depression these baboons get to. In the wild there’s a limit, in zoos, there is no limit to how deeply depressed a baboon can feel. Externally this is seen through scratching until they bled, howling and rocking uncontrollably.

Beyond baboons, this excessive depressive behaviour has also been viewed in parrots, horses and elephants held in captivity who are in a significantly more depressive state compared to the same animals in the wild.

The simple learning for us here is that a change in environment is key to shift a change in behaviour and the level of depression one can get to.

Another study looked at humans in two types of households; those who moved out from leafy green rural areas and those who moved from cities to leafy green rural areas. These areas were similar in terms of community, crime rates and other factors. The key finding was that there was more stress and despair in cities compared to rural areas.

It’s very clear to see how nature plays an important role in our mental health. Some of us may not be as comfortable with getting out into nature because we don’t know where to go, or feel that there is a lot of effort in organising the trip. However, knowing that being in nature is a free, activity based way to support your mental health, that doesn’t require any involvement of a professional, would you agree that it’s worth the effort?

Some of us may be reading this and already investing time for activities in nature; be it going on hikes, walks around the park, camping, seeking any opportunity to hit the beach; this is great! now you can feel even better when you fill your weekend with nature instead of being locked in doors. You may also feel like you have a natural inclination for being outdoors, a term that is called ‘biophillia’ which is a love for the land that supports our existence. What a beautiful thing to be entranced with!

But if you are stuck and are looking to add more nature into your life, or you’re looking for a few more ideas on how you can include nature in your everyday life, here are a few suggestions we can share with you:

  • Change your commute or walking route to go through a park

  • Swap an indoor workout or treadmill run for an outdoor walk

  • Organise a hike with friends

  • Go for a walk instead of a coffee date when catching up

  • Hit the beach - we're spoilt for choice!

  • Yearly camping trip with a group of friends or family - could you start the What's App group today?

Melbourne based?

  • 1000 steps

  • Werribee Gorge

  • Dandenong Ranges

Vic based?

  • The Grampians

  • Wilsons Promontory

  • Macedon Ranges

It will be key to:

  • Plan in advance

  • Make a pack with a friend to do ‘active catch ups’

  • Find an ‘active group’ and commit to a hike every second month

Looking for something easy?

  • Get a terrarium

  • Grab a plant at home

  • Change your screen savers (phone, computer etc.) to nature scenery or hang up a portrait of a natural landscape - just looking at nature has shown to have benefits!