This is an excerpt from a new book (complimentary to all Walk Inspired Blog Followers)
When you are dealing with current remedies for workplace stress you’re dealing with a science that is in equivalent to that of the T model Ford. You’re dealing with university studies and academia which promote the idea that there is a workplace environment and then there is a recovery environment. Even the most recent studies reveal this primal proposition underpinning the psychology of workplace design.
Here is an extract from a recent paper on this topic
“Simple input requirements were considered a necessary feature of FAID because it was primarily developed to be used by organisations in workplace settings, rather than by researchers in laboratory-based studies. In FAID, a duty schedule is viewed as a time-varying function whereby an individual is considered to exist in either one of two states: work or non-work. FAID estimates are based on the notion that the work-related fatigue associated with a duty schedule represents the balance between two competing forces: those that produce fatigue during work periods; and those that reverse the effects of fatigue, i.e., produce recovery, during non-work periods (Fig. 1). The fatigue value of work periods and recovery value of non-work periods depend on their length, circadian timing, and recency.
Now I would like to give you an alternative. You do not take your recovery hat off when you walk in the door of business and so you do not have to leave the office more fatigued than when you arrive. Here is a graph of what they predict Will happen to you when you go to work on a normal working day without sleep deprivation.
There are four levels of Biophilic Intervention that can transform your Adrenal Responses (fight flight) and give you a more healthy lifestyle by reducing workplace stress and hazardous fatigue: They are:
- Design your environment with Biophilic Principles
- Start the day in Nature
- Connect to Nature throughout the day
- Think Like nature
Design Your Environment with Biophilic Principles
“New research supports measurable, positive impacts of biophilic design on health, strengthening the empirical evidence for the human-nature connection, and raising its priority level within both design research and design practice.”
While the generic benefits of office greenery are well-established, specific features and how they relate to occupant satisfaction aren’t as defined. 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, released by Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainability consulting firm, lays out hallmarks of green offices that will improve worker productivity, satisfaction, and overall health.
1) Visual connection with nature – A view to elements of nature, living systems, and natural processes, which can be as simple as a window view or an outdoor break area.
2) Non-visual connection with nature – Even non-visual experiences such as calming nature sounds have been shown to reduce stress and improve cognitive performance.
3) Non-rhythmic sensory stimuli – Nature sounds such as birds chirping or calming breezes have shown significant employee wellness benefits.
4) Thermal and airflow variability – Small changes in temperature, humidity, airflow, and surface temperatures can increase worker comfort, leading to productivity gains.
5) Presence of water – Not only can features such as waterfalls or fountains increase concentration, but also elevate occupant mood and positive emotional responses.
6) Dynamic and diffuse light – Lighting that mimics natural sunlight patterns can help maintain visual comfort and reduce eye strain.
7) Connection with natural systems – Variations to match the seasons can help occupants feel at home and more connected to their environment while also improving perception of the workplace.
The report also identifies patterns from natural analogues and spatial conditions that evoke a feeling of being in nature which can help increase workers’ feelings of being connected with their workspace. Download the report here
Start the Day in Nature
People are different in nature. More generous, more inspired, more creative, kinder, happier and healthier. But rather than wait for your annual holidays in Spain, you can go to nature every morning and 4 times a day as a commitment to wellbeing.
There are many people who spend their entire day indoors. In gyms, in cars, in offices, in planes, in home, in bed, in the kitchen. It’s in… even yoga and meditation are taught IN things.
The best human health supplement you can take is OUT. Outside, outdoors, out and about, out there. Out of the office, out of the house, out of the gym. There is an innate connection between the human heart and nature. Wellbeing hinges on it. Personal wellbeing is caused Outside.
- Fresh air loaded with oxygen rejuvenates your cellular health and alkalises acids bought about by stress and environments.
- Sunlight plays an integral role in mental and physical health (note stars at night emit sunlight)
- Green fresh land clears the mind
- Vision of the horizon or a distant nature setting causes metabolic change
- Skin tone responds to outdoor activity
- Mental health is radically improved in nature
This one simple commitment to step outside in the morning in a track suit or your pyjamas and do a few Star Jumps, skip a rope and connect to nature can extend your life by 20 years. Nature has been used to heal and help people recover for thousands of years. Although we are trying to bring organic produce and herbal teas into the home, which can support our wellbeing, getting outside and connecting with nature can be more important than all of that.
Sanatariums, health spa’s, retreat centres, holiday resorts, ashrams, monasteries, temples are most often located in the heart and seclusion of nature. Just being in nature causes change.
Connect to Nature throughout the Day
Humans have traditionally improved the places in which we live and work to increase our comfort and productivity. These improvements have been based upon technological advancements that improved the health and welfare of building occupants, but have paid little attention to more subtle physiological needs. Recent advancement in our understanding of natural systems, coupled with a growing understanding of the subtle neurological and physiological functions associated with contact with nature, have allowed us to identify strategies to increase economic gains, improve productivity, and strengthen the social fabric of communities. Although the cognitive benefits of biophilia are well studied by the scientific community, the economic benefits of biophilic design accrued through implementing its many associated strategies remain an understudied element of personal wellbeing, productivity and workplace management.
Although the concept of biophilia is relatively straightforward to grasp, the neurological and physiological underpinnings and their impacts on the environment are critical for one to truly appreciate its value. The millions of neural channels in our brain link to the human body’s autonomic nervous system. This system consists of two elements: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system stimulates the human body when cognitive function is needed. The parasympathetic system serves to relax the body, and is used for internal processes such as digestion. When the body’s natural balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic is achieved, the body is in the ideal state of homeostasis.
In chaotic and unsettling environments, (such as an office or workplace under pressure) the body’s sympathetic system is highly engaged even to the point of a “fight-or-flight” mindset. concurrently, the parasympathetic system is suppressed, disrupting our natural balance and resulting in energy drain and mental fatigue. This combination induces stress, frustration, irritability, and distraction. In contrast, human interaction with nature provides an increase in parasympathetic activity resulting in better bodily function and reduced sympathetic activity. The result is decreased stress and irritability, and the increased ability to concentrate.
Neuroscientists have found that views of complex, dynamic natural scenes trigger many more interactions of the mu (opioid) receptors in the large rear portion of the visual cortex. Viewing nature is literally a pleasurable experience. Views with less visual richness, such as a blank wall or a tree-less street, are processed in the small forward portion of the visual cortex and trigger far fewer of the mu receptors, triggering less pleasurable mental reactions (Biederman & Vessel, 2006). In contrast, movement in a natural setting, such as waves, leaves in a breeze, fish swimming in an aquarium, or a flickering fire, capture and hold our attention.
Other physiological effects of exposure to nature are well documented. For example, the effects of walking through forest atmospheres versus urban areas have been documented by comparing the salivary cortisol, blood pressure, and heart rate of subjects. On average, salivary cortisol (a stress hormone) was 13.4-15.8% lower, pulse rate was reduced by 3.9-6.0%, and systolic blood pressure was lower in individuals who walked through the forest, compared with those who walked through urban areas. Most impressive, overall parasympathetic activity— which occurs when we feel relaxed— increased by 56.1%, whereas sympathetic activity—which occurs when we feel stressed—decreased by 19.4% in subjects who walked through the forest (Park, 2010). These studies support Kaplan and Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (ART): that nature serves as a positive restorative environment for humans and is an effective platform for stress management, health promotion, psychotherapy, and disease deterrence.
Stress is a known cause of both mental health disorders and cardiovascular diseases. According to the World Health Organisation, mental health disorders and cardiovascular diseases are expected to be the two prime contributing factors to illnesses worldwide by 2020 (WHO, 2008). Treatment for cardiovascular disorders account for $1 of every $6 spent on healthcare in America (cDc, 2011). If workers are faced with nowhere to relieve stress in the office, the premature onset of psychiatric, stress-induced, and anxiety-related illnesses can surface (cDc, 2011). Studies show that our ability to directly access nature can alleviate feelings of stress, thus bolstering the case for biophilia in the workplace (Grahn & Stigsdotter, 2010).
Heartbeat has also been measured in natural and urban environments in relation to spatially selective attention. After test subjects viewed videos of the two aforementioned environments, their heart beat interval results suggested that videos depicting natural environments had an involuntary relaxing effect on autonomic functions, inducing positive cardiac deceleration as well as beneficial physiological arousal (laumann et al., 2003).
Another emerging field of research surrounding human interactions with nature, known as Shinrin-yoku in Japan, continues to provide solid evidence of the benefits of natural environments on human health. Shinrin-yoku is the ancient Japanese practice of restorative walks through natural settings, most often forests. In English, Shinrin-yoku directly translates to “forest bathing”. Forest bathing experiments were conducted among 87 non-insulin-dependent diabetics over the course of six years to test Shinrin-yoku’s ability to effectively decrease blood glucose levels in patients. After walking 3-6 kilometers in the forest, blood glucose levels dropped on average from 179 milligrams to 109 milligrams. To ensure that this was attributable to the forest environment, rather than simply the aerobic activity of walking, patients were also monitored while exercising on indoor treadmills and in indoor pools. compared with these forms of exercise, which effectively reduced blood glucose levels by 21.2%, forest bathing decreased blood glucose by an impressive 39.7% (Ohtsuka, 1998). Within forests, human hormonal secretion and autonomic nervous functions are stabilized as we breathe in organic compounds called phytoncides excreted by the forest. New Shinrin-yoku studies show that inhaling these pungent compounds has tremendous health benefits that are difficult to reap in the urban and built environments that confine so many individuals today.
Our body’s response to daylight is another important clue as to how we can harness the power of biophilia. Daylight affects both our eye functions and our inherent circadian rhythms. light therapy works by exposing the retina to specific wavelengths of light to treat imbalances of circadian rhythm—the daily cycle of hormonal activity observed in many living organisms. That balance is partially tied to the changing colour of daylight over the course of a day. Morning light is yellow, becoming bluer in mid-day and shifting to red in the late afternoon. Exposure to natural light serves to balance our hormonal levels of serotonin (linked to our mood) and inhibit the production of melatonin (used to regulate sleep). When there is an imbalance of serotonin and melatonin in our bodies, our sleep-wake pattern is disturbed, which in turn inhibits our neurological and immune system functions. To enable our bodies to reach an optimal hormonal balance, natural daylighting provides the greatest amount of lux, or unit of luminance, and the specific wavelengths of light needed by the human body to establish and maintain the serotonin-melatonin balance. Sunlight on a clear day is 500 to 1,000 times greater than artificial lighting (Boyce, 2010). This is an important consideration while designing indoor environments to incorporate more natural light.
These explanations of nervous system activity in mankind provide some of the fundamental physiological value of biophilia. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the neurological effects of nature deprivation as we interact less and less with nature on a daily basis due to the rise of a lifestyle led mainly indoors.
Hence, it falls to organisations to somehow insist that staff exit the building at least twice a day into areas of green. These areas can be either atrium environments where sunlight can penetrate the cage of facade, or out into parks. Meetings can be held outdoors, and certainly weekly team reviews are best held in exposure to nature.
People are different in nature and being in an office tower for more than four hours will have negative impacts on personal wellbeing. This is, for now, a personal choice to exit the building two to three times a day and of course, is influenced by weather patterns and seasons.
Think Like nature
The isolation of human nature from nature provides the perfect breeding ground for egocentric awareness of life. This emotionally volatile existence consists of a darkened connection between who a person is, how they feel, what they know and and how they react to the world around them.
Biophilia may focus on the external environmental factors that govern health and wellbeing, productivity and communication in life but there remains a void in the research which the author has spent his life filling. That void is thought in biophilic terms.
People are different in nature. This is proven in study after study. People are different in nature both biologically as demonstrated with references in the last section of this chapter and mentally. People are different in nature mentally. They think clearer, feel better, are less inclined to be radicalised, stubborn and argumentative. This shift in mental metabolism is imminently noticable and even facial features change as a result.
But you will notice that people come back from nature and quickly rebound into old patterns of thought. It is this variation that we can make huge strides to counter.
Firstly, we must understand the human response to being in nature is non verbal. The signs and signals of nature’s impact on people is noticeable and overt but the cause is not a sound of recognition or observation. It is considered more a connection. That connection is the aspiration of the meditator or yoga, the preacher or minister. Looking for the purity of human being – human nature before the thoughts of urban living cloud and fog that essential nature of every human.
This is no accident. This experience of our true nature in nature is an invitation to explore a way of thinking that is not commercially available. It can’t be because it is free in nature. I invite you to come and explore this proposition using these five simple words that attempt to transcribe the unwritten harmony people feel in nature into a language that can come inside the office tower, gym and lounge room.
- Nature seeks a balance in all things. This is a head to head conflict with emotion. Emotion and stress are lopsided perceptions. Love is the synthesis of all emotion. Hence nature seeks love not imbalance.
- Everything grows at the border of support and challenge. This causes a certain unpredictability about all existence. A fragility that many people fight in their urban mind but which cannot be fought in nature.
- Nothing is missing… In nature energy can transform from tree to smoke, from rock to dust, from human to formless. Nothing can come from nothing. Even thought itself contains some of the energy. Nature is complete, it can only change form.
- All is vibration … The essential nature of all things is determined by its vibration. A rock, for example, is constructed from electrons and atoms all of which exist in water. Hence the form of the rock is a different vibration than water. Human beings can change the vibration of things by thought.
- All is hierarchical … there is order in the apparent chaos.
When one thinks as nature, the experience of being in nature is transported into whatever that person does. Even sitting in an office under the earth with no light this person can remain in a healthy mental and emotional state if they are able to think as nature thinks as a form of connectedness.
I invite you to explore this “think as nature thinks” in the Back on Track training.