Series: Nature and the Workplace: Part 1
Have you ever noticed how different you feel in contrasting surroundings – like walking along a busy street compared to strolling in a park? It seems obvious because it is a phenomenon we encounter all the time, but when you think about it you might ask yourself “why”?
Humans entrain to their surroundings. The word “entrainment” means to synchronize to a stimulus like a musical beat, or the light-darkness of daytime and night.
Entrainment functions on all levels. The beating of your heart is the result of each individual heart cell pulsing synchronistically to the same rhythm. If two heart cells are separated they will pulse to different rhythms; when they are moved closer together they start to pulse together.
In the same way, we entrain to rhythms around us. A busy street is full of chaotic stimulation, from honking car horns, to flashing lights, to bright colours, to other people walking briskly by. Studies have shown that our hearts beat faster and breathing rate increases in such contexts. Our brainwaves speed up.
We entrain to each other. Walk into a party where people are smiling and laughing and your mood will feel more buoyant. Notice how you feel when driving on a highway and someone impatiently cuts you off – do you not immediately feel that same impatience and perhaps anger? I do, even if prior to the incident I had been feeling calm and positive.
Health and well-being require that we slow down and relax. Our bodies are not designed to experience constant high pace stimulation or chaotic noise.
If that is our experience, our health deteriorates. For example background traffic noise, even if it is barely discernible, can be interpreted by our bodies as “danger”, causing the release of stress hormones and over the long term increasing risk of heart disease. All of this can happen below the threshold of awareness.
A simple walk in a park allows the body to entrain to the peaceful rhythms of nature. The benefits can be heightened by attending to our surroundings. Our heart rate, circulation, breathing and brainwaves all coordinate to the same pattern, so when we are noticing, say, the gentle motion of a breeze over grasses, or water flowing, or clouds shifting and moving, our whole body slows down with that awareness. This is one of the reasons we feel so much better out in nature.
So if you are feeling a little rattled at work, or upset with a colleague, do yourself a favor and take a walk outside.
Next in the series: how nature heals and implications for the workplace