Tag Archives: stress

Why You Need Trees On Your Screensaver

Does your phone wallpaper/screensaver show a picture of nature?

When I give talks about how our love of nature intertwines with our love of technology, I often ask the audience to put up their hands if they have a nature photo on their screensavers or wallpapers. Usually, at least half of them do.

I’m not surprised by that. Environmental psychology research has shown over and over again that just looking at pictures of nature such as photos, paintings, and videos can slow the heartbeat and reduce stress and anxiety. Of course, nothing beats the real thing, but images come a very close second.

Last weekend I wondered how a quick  random Twitter poll would answer a similar question – ‘Does your phone wallpaper/screensaver show a picture of nature?’. 59 people responded, of whom 68% said Yes and 32% said No.(Results) Those numbers roughly match what my live audiences say. I didn’t ask, however, exactly what aspects of nature those pictures portrayed. There may have been some trees, perhaps? As in Flatland, a new live wallpaper from Maxelus which animals and birds stroll across your screen.

Flatland live wallpaper
Flatland live wallpaper (also looks a bit like the savanna – see below)

If you’re feeling stressed, seek out some trees

Coincidentally, some interesting research popped into my inbox today (thanks @danfoxdavies) which adds an extra dimension to the screensaver thing. Scholars at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and the University of Hong Kong have shown that not only do pictures and videos of trees reduce stress, but the density of trees is also important. They call it a ‘dose’, as in a dose of medicine, and ask which is more calming – viewing a single tree or a number of trees?

In a carefully designed experiment, they worked with 160 participants in a four stage exercise.

  1. The participants underwent a series of tests designed to induce psychological stress. The tests included 3 minutes to prepare a public speech, a 5-minute public speech, and a 5-minute subtraction task performed in front of two interviewers and a video camera, and completed without paper and pencil or a calculator. To increase stress levels, participants were told that their performance would be recorded and assessed later, but actually no video recording was made. During the tests, they were asked to report on their stress levels several times.
  2. The participants then viewed specially recorded 6 minute videos of varying kinds of landscapes.
  3. Then they undertook the stress tests again.
  4. Finally, they were given 15 minutes to write about how they had felt during the experiment.

The researchers analysed the resulting texts and identified keywords. For example, keywords used in the final piece of writing included “relaxing, calming, tranquil, at ease, comfortable, peaceful, serene, settled, safe, quite, a reprieve, mesmerizing, soothing, pleasant, unrushed, undisturbed, enjoyable, worry-free”.

They concluded that the percentage of people using keywords indicating stress recovery increases as the density of tree cover increases. At the lowest level of tree density, only 41% of participants reported a calming
effect but as tree cover density reached 36%, more than 90% of participants reported a stress recovery experience.

The team concluded that there is “a positive, linear association between the density of urban street trees and self-reported stress recovery”. In other words, if you’re feeling stressed,  hang out in a place where there are lots of trees, and you’ll probably be able to relax.

(The paper itself is behind an academic firewall, but Laurie Vazquez‘s article at Big Think  summarises it really well.)

The Savanna Hypothesis

One possible explanation for the fact that we feel better around trees is Gordon Orians’ Savanna Hypothesis, which argues that since humans originated from the African savanna where groups of trees like the acacias pictured below provided shelter and resources. Some deep ancient memory reassures us they offer safety.

Acacia trees in the savannah
Acacia trees in the savannah

Forest Bathing

Another reason could be that trees help us relax. Forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, involves walking or resting in a forest, breathing in the healing aromas of the trees and tuning into the abundant life around you.

The practice has been widely-researched in Japan, where a recent journal paper described an experiment with 19 middle-aged men suffering from high-blood pressure who were asked to take 80 minute forest walks on two weekends. Researchers said the activity “significantly reduced pulse rate, and significantly increased the score for vigor and decreased the scores for depression, fatigue, anxiety and confusion”.

Needless to say, forest bathing cannot really be undertaken in the sensory-deprived digital environment, at least not yet, but perhaps an image of forests might produce a sympathetic physiological nearby nature response? And, perhaps one day soon, we may even be able to produce virtual aromas to match.

FOREST
Forest Bathing

 

Nearby nature on your screen

Nearby nature involves small suggestions of the natural world which, although seemingly insignificant and often out of physical reach, can play a powerful role in human well-being. People with access to nearby natural settings have been found to be healthier than those without, and often experience increased levels of satisfaction with their home, job, and life in general.

So, to wrap up, if you want some nature on your screensaver, consider trees.

Find Your Technature Balance (video)

Not so long ago, many of us worried about ‘worklife balance’. At its simplest, it meant making sure you divided your time sensibly between hours of work and hours of, well, everything else.

Today, we worry more about finding a balance between the time we spend online… and… everything else. And one of the most important parts of  that ‘everything else’ is the time we spend in nature. Today, we don’t worry so much about worklife balance, but we do worry about technature balance.

What Is Technature Balance?

Let’s face it, many of us are connected to the internet pretty much all the time. It’s where we work, where we play, where we meet up with people and stay in touch with distant friends and family.

All of that’s fine. But there’s something else we could be connecting to that has rather fallen by the wayside. Planet Earth. The soil beneath our feet. The air we breathe. The forests, beaches, fields, mountains, lakes and gardens of the natural world.

Today, most of us live in cities. Beyond the occasional urban park, they’re not exactly rich in greenery.

And long before the smartphone arrived, people who live in cities were already pretty accustomed to life without nature, but now it is fashionable to blame technology for that separation.

That is incorrect. It is we who are responsible. We thought we could concrete over the fields and design a better life for ourselves, free of nature’s wildness and uncertainties. But it’s very obvious now that this was the wrong way to go.

What we must do now is develop a new kind of balance, a technature balance. One which helps us live more healthily in cities, and more naturally with our technology.

Find Your Own Technature Balance

I’ve recorded a video explaining the notion of technature balance along with some practical advice on how to achieve it. In fact, just watching the film itself is an exercise in balancing the two, since it requires you to set aside five minutes of time to sit quietly and relax while you listen.

It ends with an invitation to audit your own technature balance. Here are some of the questions:

  • How many natural materials do you physically touch every day – real wood, soil, leaves, flowers, and vegetables.
  • When you need to rest your eyes, where do you look? At clouds, at trees, at gardens?
  • Did you tend a plant? Stroke an animal? Seek out a ray of sunlight and raise your face to its warmth?

I’d love you to share the results in the comments below, on the Technobiophilia Facebook Page, or on Twitter tagged #technature. I look forward to hearing how it feels for you!

Don’t know where to start? Here are a few tips:

  1. Images of nature can reduce stress and slow down your heart-rate so choose new pictures for your desktop wallpapers and screensavers.  Trees, water, blue skies and flowers all work well.
  2. Treat yourself to something made from real wood to add to your digital life – a mouse, a keyboard, a smartphone case. Enjoy the organic warmth, much more restorative than plastic.
  3. Take a trip into virtual reality to explore VR forests, plains, deserts, and oceans. Second Life has a wealth of landscapes to explore. Pause your shootout in Grand Theft Auto to take scenic photos of the glorious mountain ranges. Treat yourself to an Oculus Rift VR headset and open up whole new vistas.
  4. Go outside. Choose a topic to learn about this year – the shore, hedgerows, birds – and take your smartphone with you. There are lots of apps especially created for the outdoors, so remember – there’s no need to log off if you don’t want to.

“Do you find yourself longing for the Apocalypse? I did.” Nature Rx

Do you love nature but can’t stand all the sentimental stuff? Then check out prescription strength nature at Nature Rx.

This film is already a year old, but absolutely worth another watch!

One lost man, longing for the apocalypse and crippled by modern life, finds an answer… a humorous and obvious solution he was missing all along. Having fun again, feeling sexy with his wife, wild, peaceful and free, this man offers a good time prescription for our busy world. Warning: this prescription may lead to spontaneous euphoria. For euphoria lasting more than 4 hours, check work email and consult your doctor.

The makers say:

Set in the world of a spoofed prescription drug commercial, Nature Rx offers a hearty dose of laughs and the outdoors – two timeless prescriptions for whatever ails you. Side effects may include confidence, authenticity, remembering you have a body, and being in a good mood for no apparent reason.

An award winning comedy series, Nature Rx also offers environmentalism a needed dose of fun and satire. Nature Rx is a friendly reminder to us Earthly inhabitants what feels good and what is worth protecting once we take an adventure outdoors.

And if you’re still suffering from an existential crisis, you’d better check out Nature Rx Part 2 as well.