From Green to Screen: How America’s Separation from Nature is Affecting Our Well-being and How We Can Fight It
Wake up, shower, laptop, online classes, work, sleep, repeat. This was my schedule when quarantine started. Covid changed the way of life for everybody. When the pandemic hit the US in March, there was an 18% increase in at-home internet usage. Even before the pandemic, this schedule was eerily similar to my daily life, filled with electronic stimulation. I am 24 years old right now and am the generation that grew up in the post-internet world. I can vividly remember the first time I got a flip phone to my first iPhone. Living in a world surrounded by technology, my mental wellbeing has been negatively impacted by the constant saturation of information, and I am not the only one affected by this. To cope with these struggles, I found taking time to escape the hectic developed world and go outside was something that I could fall back on for recentering, and have found super beneficial to my overall wellbeing. By incorporating nature into my daily life and taking time outside, I have improved my mental health and overall happiness. This is why I think it is important to discuss the problems we have created in our modern world and how we can address them in our daily lives to set better habits for ourselves and future generations with nature in mind.
Lets face it, we live in a VERY developed world, and society is progressing further everyday. Cities are growing bigger, with new buildings being finished each day, and housing developments crawling further and further into undeveloped lands. With each new project we add to the complexity of the human world and subtract from the natural world. In these voids of nature, millions of people have turned to technology and human innovation to appease the need for mental stimulation. Sadly, as we are driven further away from the outdoors, the beneficial effects of nature towards our mental and physical health are decreasing rapidly. From increased isolation to anxiety and depression, staying inside and on our screens is not natural, and isn’t good without balance. This is especially troublesome for today’s youth who have grown up only knowing this way of life, and future generations as a whole. All of us inevitably pay the price when we are isolated from the natural world, and addressing these bad practices will not only protect the earth, but will improve the health and wellness of us and future generations.
Before talking about how to address the way forward, it is important to understand what I am talking about and where these behaviors are coming from. First, I want to mention that technology isn’t inherently bad, but rather the way humans use it, or rather misuse it, is bad. Technology has connected communities, especially during these unprecedented times with schools being closed and people separated. Therefore, I am not arguing against technology and modernization, but rather emphasizing that there needs to be a balance between nature and technology in our modern lives. I can personally attest to this… wasting away hours on social media or watching Youtube videos. Overconsumption and bad habits have made many aspects of today’s society detrimental, especially in regards to the value of nature in our lives. Nature-deficit disorder is a concept developed by Richard Louv, an author and journalist. It is not a formal medical diagnosis, but rather a way to describe the psychological, physical, and cognitive costs from our alienation from nature. These effects have been sped up by the proliferation of electronic communications and poor urban planning/disappearing open space. Nature is rarely factored into urban development, and old zoning laws reinforce the resentment to change. Adding to this, as we separate ourselves more and more, our education systems and way of life have diminished the importance of the natural world. All these factors have propelled us to where we are today: further than we have ever been from nature.
So why does this matter?
Nature is good for your mind and body. The more we incorporate nature into our lives, the happier we are. Those who include nature into their identity experience long term benefits in emotional wellbeing. Whenever I have the chance, I try to get outside to climb or go for a ride on my skateboard around my neighborhood to relax and recenter myself. And I am not alone… There have been studies conducted to show the correlation between emotional-wellbeing and the outdoors. Those who are more connected to nature tended to experience more positive affect, vitality, and life satisfaction compared to those less connected to nature. The outdoors not only improves health, cognition, and general mood, but also tends to increase one's respect for nature, and desire to protect the environment. This can be understood through our evolution. Not to get all sciency on you, but there is this hypothesis (called the biophilia hypothesis), and it says that humans have “an inborn tendency to focus on and affiliate with other living things”. This is rooted in our evolutionary psychology, and suggests that modern environments are not optimally suited to minds that evolved in a more natural environment. Now you might be asking what the issue is here. Well the thing is, more of the world’s population now lives in urban areas instead of rural areas, and COVID-19 has only pushed people inside more. We have never experienced such disconnect from the natural world than right now. But we as a generation can be different, which is why I want to provide tips that have helped not only myself, but many others to keep nature a part of one’s life.
We are a different generation, and we are aware of the consequences of our inactions. This is why we created nice as heck and why we push people to live their lives through experience, and through the outdoors. It is, therefore, our responsibility to change the behaviors of older generations and pave the way for future generations to respect the world we occupy and the environment we live in. We must embrace the outdoors and natural spaces and create identities that contain the natural world. This is not only for our health, but for the longevity of the Earth and all living things on it. I have therefore provided the most easy things you can do, even on a busy day and yes, even for someone like me in a city like Los Angeles. But feel free to explore ways that work in your own life and make sense for you, everybody is unique!
Capaldi, Colin A., et al. “The Relationship between Nature Connectedness and Happiness: a Meta-Analysis” Pg. 2-6. Frontiers, Frontiers, 18 Aug. 2014, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00976/full.
Clement, J. “Topic: Coronavirus: Impact on Online Usage in the U.S.” Statista, 10 Sept. 2020, www.statista.com/topics/6241/coronavirus-impact-on-online-usage-in-the-us/.
Galia, Frauke. “7 Super Easy Ways to Integrate Nature into A Busy Life.” Pg. 1-6. F.A.L.K. Aromatherapy, F.A.L.K. Aromatherapy, 14 May 2019, www.falkaromatherapy.com/blog/2019/5/13/7-super-easy-ways-to-integrate-natur
Johnson, Jon. “Negative Effects of Technology: Psychological, Social, and Health.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 25 Feb. 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/negative-effects-of-technology.
Louv, Richard. “Nature-Deficit Disorder Pg. 2.” Edited by Jenette Restivo, Children & Nature Network, 2016, www.childrenandnature.org/about/nature-deficit-disorder/.