The topic for this #occhat session focused on how people feel the natural environment facilitates their occupations. In particular, what benefits do people notice from participating in activities in a natural environment and what impediments can the natural environment create?
Contributions from many parts of the UK and overseas developed into a lively discussion which passed all too soon, thank you once again to everyone who contributed. This summary is an interpretation of the discussion and as such may not represent the full discussion, however the full transcript can be viewed here.
The following themes emerged from the discussion.
- The sensory aspect of the environment
People shared their personal experiences of the natural environment, for example,
“I enjoy walking in green spaces, listening to the sounds, noticing the details”
“after “tuning in” to nature, senses become so… sensitised. I love this feeling”
“Sometimes walking is very mindful and restorative because I’m focusing on sensations”
It allows a sense of “to be”, where this is, “not thinking or reflecting just being.”
The sensory aspect could be noted in things we imagine, feel and hear, as well as see,
“If I’m dressed warmly enough, a slight brr is nice – makes me feel awake!
“I am soothed by the sound of sheep bleating from my local urban farm. Must be my Welsh roots!
“I do not think you have to actually ‘be outside’ to have positive effect. Some of my best relaxation groups involved recall of walking in woods… sound of the wind in the trees, birds etc or sound of the waves etc this can illicit a very strong response”
“For me sensory component, sights, sounds, smells, sensation on my skin important. Views or photos great too”
“Do we have to be in the outdoors to use it for occupations? I once used reminiscence to talk about walking in the hills.”
“Sometimes just imagining being in nature – especially sunny beach or lovely green space – can be so beneficial!”
Our experience of the natural environment is influenced by the occupational form we choose to engage in whilst we are there,
“I am thinking about what Iwama has said about how human beings position themselves in relation to the environment, with our occupations we can try to control, conquer, dominate, or we can be part of it. We can walk in the great outdoors, or we can drive our 4 x 4 vehicles through it.”
Another aspect that was discussed was how occupation in a natural environment tunes us into the changing seasons and awareness of this natural rhythm could impact well-being. This was related to an individual’s sense of spirituality, which was proposed as a topic for a future #occhat.
- The ‘dark side’ of occupation in a natural environment
As well as considering the benefits of the natural environment we should also consider the challenges and dangers it presents and the impact this could have on well-being. Examples included,
“The social pressure (& stress) people feel when trying to have an allotment plot as good as their neighbour?”
“I like to go up mountains, and mountains can kill you, but they can also represent a very rewarding challenge.”
- Environmental impediments to participation
Related to the ‘dark side’ of occupation, a point was made about how the environment can impede occupational participation,
“I will say one thing that impedes occupation is how the person fits in the environment.
And so addressing impediments in the environment can be used to manage deficits in performance skills,
“For example, a person with autism who has poor social skills might have a poor time in making friends at school, in which making friends in school is a key occupation and a determinant on the quality of life of a student. However, the school environment is pretty replicable to the real life environment. So, the benefit is that if we tackle some of problems like this early on for children with autism, for example, the result can be positive.”
Several comments were made about research into the impact of the natural environment on occupation,
“Notice research about nature and occupational science is not always written by OTs, not sure they would call themselves occupational scientists though”.
“McGilchrist suggests mainly right side of brain responsible for appreciating nature, left side for man-made objects.”
(McGilchrist, I. (2010) ‘Reciprocal organization of the cerebral hemispheres’ Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience Vol. 12 (4) pp.503-15)
“There has been a lot of research done into wilderness/ adventure therapy. The outdoors can provide a great experiential learning.”
Those who are interested in research into occupations in the natural environment should check the University of Essex website: http://www.greenexercise.org/index.html
- The positive impacts of nature
Several comments reflected the positive impact of participation in occupation in a natural environment,
“Most of my creative output is directly inspired by forms of nature (if quite stylised!)”
“Even when I have lived in very urban areas, just finding a little green space is essential for my well being”
“I remember some of my deepest flow experiences rock climbing outside.”
“Occupations in green space for me is often solitary, but pleasurable when shared with others too”
“On my last placement, working in the outdoors, I found it provided many opportunities to develop social skills in groups.”
In all it was summed up as,
“so the natural environment inspires creativity, it helps to de-stress, improves health and well-being.”
A final area of consideration was about the cultural context of occupations in natural environments. This focussed on skiing in Finland, where it is taught in schools and therefore has wider participation than it does in the UK. There was also a discussion about the experience of eating outdoors, which from a South African perspective is different to that which is experienced in the UK.
Next week’s #OTalk
Autism and OT, to be broadened out to include the role of the OT in Learning Disabilities. Guest host for the next #OTalk is @BillWongOT, who can share his experiences as a person with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum in addition to his OT expertise. We’re really excited to see what we can learn from him.
Other future topics which were suggested during the discussion were:
Spirituality and occupation
Habits v spontaneous occupation – The role of ritual v breaking from norm when participating in occupation (What is the value in both)
If you have a topic to suggest, please do get in touch!