Rewilding for humans: Ray Mears' plan to help mental health
Ray Mears is on a mission to “rewild” humans, by urging people to get out and experience nature first hand.
While environmentalists believe 'rewilding' land is vital to supporting the planet, the survival expert, 57, is concerned that nature has become "something that's seen solely through the television screen" and is calling for a "rewilding of people".
Insisting that "we've forgotten how to be outdoors" the TV adventurer says there is no substitute for using our senses to experience nature in real life.
"I get bored when I watch wildlife programmes," he told the Radio Times. "What's missing is the breeze on your face, smelling the air, feeling things with your own hands – the ambience and excitement of actually being there."
The rewilding movement, according to Rewilding Europe, is a progressive approach to conservation. "It’s about letting nature take care of itself," the site explains. "Enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats."
But Mears also believes it is important to "rewild" people, by reawakening our senses and encouraging us to use our eyes and ears more when in nature.
"Rewilding the human spirit is about rediscovering our latent abilities and reaching out to the world," he told i News.
"We all have incredible abilities from our distant past but we make very little use of those. But when we do, it's massively rewarding."
It's fair to say most of us are never going to be able to compete with Mears' sensory abilities, but we could certainly benefit from spending more time in nature and consciously training our brains to pay attention to what our senses are telling us.
Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience believes Ray Mears is right.
"As beautiful as nature programmes are, they cannot substitute feeling the warmth on our faces, or the wind in our hair," she explains.
"First of all, we have five senses, yet we funnel the majority of our experience through the visual, when taking a moment with our eyes closed to breathe, feel, hear and taste can give us so much more."
Dr Tang says humans have always been biophilic, meaning we have an innate affinity with imagery and sensations that remind us of what we see in nature – wood, slate, curves.
"This also explains the popularity of 'nature sounds' on mindfulness apps like rain, running water, birds," she adds.
Watch: Rail-side gardening in London blossoms during pandemic.
"Getting outside has huge benefits for our mental health," explains Dr Tang. "The fresh air helps clear our lungs, but also the sunlight naturally stimulates the production of vitamin D which also assists our immune systems.
"Exercising in the sun can help produce endorphins, our body’s natural pain relievers, as well as serotonin which helps regulates our sleep and appetite and also dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter," she continues.
"Not only that but if you’re going out there with friends, you’re likely to also be producing oxytocin – the bonding hormone giving you the feeling of the warm and fuzzies."
According to Dr Tang research has long espoused the benefits of nature.
"In Sweden, patients in a hospital bed facing an outdoor window with a tree visible showed better recovery rates compared with those who did not; in Japan “Forest Bathing” – especially capitalising on the healing and regenerating properties of pine – is GP recommended, and Stamford University, amongst others, has found that getting outside regularly reduces symptoms of stress and depression," she says.
"But it is not new! The outdoors has always been there, but perhaps, like many things this year, we are finally starting to appreciate it a lot more."
Dr Tan's tips on getting back to nature
Go with friends
Being outdoors triggers a release of endorphins, but if you're having a giggle with friends, you'll elicit the bonding hormone (oxytocin) too.
Bond with animals
It's not only human hugs and affection that generates oxytocin, but being around, or stroking animals can stimulate its production in us...and benefit them, too. (With wild animals, just watch, of course!)
Try meditation or deep breathing
This produces GABA, an inhibitory molecule which generates a sense of calm, and if you combine that with nature and sunlight, you'll get the extra boost of serotonin as well. Whilst walking take a moment to breathe deeply – in through the nose, and out through the mouth.
Try something new
The brain responds well to novelty. On a bright day, go for a walk, taking a new path. Enjoy the new experiences such as the sensation of the sun, the breeze, the new smells or sounds, and see who you meet on your adventure.
If you can't get out into the wild, gardening can be a great way to teach both dexterity and patience as you create and nurture your greenery. What's more, what you plant can be another form of self-expression and creativity.