Losing Eden | Lucy Jones

Summary of: Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild
By: Lucy Jones

Introduction

In ‘Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild’, Lucy Jones takes us on a fascinating journey into the intricate relationship between nature and our minds. Delving into cutting-edge scientific research, the book reveals how a lack of connection with nature has led to a global mental health crisis. Offering insights into our genetic predisposition to connect with nature, Jones presents the ecological, social, and personal consequences of living in increasingly urbanized environments. The book highlights the importance of cultivating natural experiences in childhood, as well as discussing the potential of nature interventions for those with severe mental health issues.

The Healing Power of Nature

During her recovery from alcoholism, author Lucy Jones discovered the powerful impact of nature on mental health. This sparked her interest in research that showed how contact with natural environments promotes better mental and physical health on a cellular level. Jones found that a lack of engagement and connection with nature has triggered a global mental health crisis. Neuroscientist Christopher Lowry’s studies with mice showed that exposure to soil reduces stress and boosts serotonin levels. Exposures to a variety of organisms found outdoors can treat or block chronic inflammation and thereby reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, inflammatory disorders, and depression. However, today, most people live in cities, spend more time indoors, and have limited exposure to the diverse organisms that make up the natural world. This impairs our connection with the natural world and results in apathy towards ecological destruction.

Our Genetic Connection to Nature

According to biologist E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis, humans have a genetic predisposition to connect with the natural world. Biophilia suggests that even if individuals don’t feel an innate connection with nature, our brains are marked by our past evolutionary responses and behavior. Researchers are successfully testing Wilson’s hypothesis through habitat theory, which states that we mostly live in park-like grasslands with clusters of trees and water because our ancient ancestors sought out such environments to increase their chances of survival. E.O. Wilson argues that humans have an innate animacy of life, preferring biological activity over non-biological activity from the time we are born. Several studies support the merits of biophilia as a hypothesis including one in 2009 that evaluated 50 empirical studies and concluded that the natural world has positive effects on the mind, and an absence of connection to nature is harmful. The biophilia trait can be fortified or repressed based on individual learning.

Nature and Child Development

Children’s physical and mental development heavily depends on their connection to nature. However, the disconnection is increasing because of the widespread use of technology and the fear of letting children roam. City kids face more significant problems as their opportunities to access nature are limited. This problem is more evident in low-income and minority communities who receive less funding for public parks. The lack of creative play outside, significantly stunts children’s social, psychological, and creative growth, and this is already an issue in kids in inner cities with underfunded schools. However, there’s a highly promising trend of outdoor nurseries and “Forest Schools” growing in popularity in Britain, and the framework for outdoor learning exists but is not accessible to everyone. Therefore, political willpower is necessary to make it more accessible on a larger scale so that children appreciate nature.

Nature: A Natural Stress Reliever

In the book, the author shares the story of Jones, who had been sober but still struggled with feelings of doubt, resentment, and frustration. Jones goes for a swim in a Scottish cove, where she experiences a sense of calm and energization in her brain. According to the book, this reaction might be caused by negative ions that help in releasing serotonin and activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Contact with nature can help our systems maintain balance and improve our immune and nervous system. Gardening and forest bathing, or spending at least two hours in a forest and breathing deeply, are some of the ways to reduce stress. The book also explores Attention Restoration Theory, suggesting that engaging with nature can help restore attention and improve mental health, including for people with severe conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia.

Nature’s Impact on Mental Health

People and societies need a connection with nature to flourish. The impact of physical environments on well-being was studied at Robert Taylor Homes, where trees and grass significantly improved the residents’ mental health and cognitive functioning. The greener a building’s surroundings, the lower the crime rate. Similarly, the Nature Imagery in Prisons Project found that nature videos resulted in 25% fewer disciplinary reports for violent incidents among inmates, who felt calmer, less irritable, less tense, better able to sleep, and staff reported fewer incidents of self-harm and angry outbursts.

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