Simply put, a connection to animals and nature makes us better human beings – better in relationship, better at keeping ourselves healthy, and better at taking care of the natural world.
According to research, human beings need nature to remain healthy, and our increasing separation from nature has led to both human suffering and environmental degradation. As humans have become more detached from the rhythms of the natural world, and instead look to technology to set the pace for progress, function, and productivity, levels of stress and dis-health among Americans have skyrocketed.
According to the American Institute of Stress, the American Psychological Association, and the Global Organization for Stress workplace stress is leading cause of stress in the United States. 80% of workers feel stress on the job while 30% report they are “always” or “often” under stress at work. 35% of Americans report that their jobs interfere with personal and family time and 54% state stress causes them to fight with the people closest to them. This stress is considered prolonged or chronic stress.
In nature, stress generally occurs in short, intense spurts — like when an animal is being chased by another animal. Stress is a physiological response that allows animals (humans very much included) to function more efficiently and effectively for the short-term in order to survive. If animals (or people) remain in a stressful situation for too long, there are long-lasting negative health effects.
The American Institute of Stress reports that 77% of Americans report feeling the physical effects of stress which include fatigue, headaches, upset stomachs, muscle tension, changes in appetite, teeth grinding, and a loss of sex drive. 73% report experiencing psychological symptoms which include irritability or anger, feeling nervous, a lack of energy, or feeling like they might cry. Stress is also inextricably linked to heart disease, cancer, hypertension, and depression. Stress increases the risk of heart disease by 40% and stroke by 50% and costs the nation over $300 billion in health expenses and lost productivity.
Connecting to nature and animals helps people to slow down, breathe, listen to their bodies, feel their emotions, engage authentically, and have the TIME to act thoughtfully. This is of great benefit in all parts of life, from relationships, to parenting, to how we take care of our bodies and our minds.
This process is reciprocal, as humans who are less stressed, more present, and aware of the healing benefits of interacting with the natural world are also more likely to be better stewards of the environment, protecting and fighting for the rights of animals and nature.
Louv, R. (2006 ). Last Child in the Woods. Algonquin Books.
Louv, R. (2012). The Nature Principle. Algonquin Books.
Kellert, S. (2012). Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World. Yale University Press.
Kellert, S. & Wilson, E.O. (1995). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Island Press.
McCardle, P., & McCune, S. (2010). Animals in Our Lives: Human-Animal Interactions in Family, Community and Therapeutic Settings. Paul H Brookes Publishing Company.
Selhub, E.M., & Logan, A.C. (2012). Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness, and Vitality. Wiley Publishing.