In my introductory post, “What are Restorative Environments?” I noted the shared inclusion of nature when respondents were asked to describe their ideal setting while processing a life-changing diagnosis: a stroll on a beach, fishing at a favorite spot, or a cozy fireplace at home. Why is it that we seek a connection to nature? Here’s what I’ve learned from my reading and research.
All of us, regardless of age, constantly self-regulate our environments. We balance pleasure and pain, unconsciously, throughout our day. Babies learn this quickly: think of the stories of well-fed and dry babies who just want to be held at two in the morning!
Korpela (1989) theorized restorative environments are necessary to maintain our “self”-–that is, what makes us “us”–our identity, our self-concept; we reflect on our “self” in these environments. Think of this time for reflection like a fine scale—it keeps us in balance throughout our day. Most importantly, we all intuitively seek environments that permit and support this opportunity for reflection. So we realize we’re stressed, and we need a bit of time to reflect, but we can’t, so we get more stressed!
Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) presented their “Attention Restoration Theory” or ART: a two-stage process of “attentional recovery” where mental distractions are cleared, followed by the second stage, reflection, where an individual is able to think about important matters and resolve methods to address them.
Ulrich and Hull (1992) tied it together noting “restorative benefits that stressed persons derive from exposure to nature” and the “positive changes in psychological states, physiological systems and cognitive and behavioral function; that is, recovery from the negative, stress-related effects from dealing with life’s daily hassles.”
Ulrich’s subsequent work is well-documented: patients recovering from gall-bladder surgery required fewer meds and were released earlier when able to view nature during than recovery, and well-supported: Moore’s (per Ghose, 1999) study on prison inmates with pastoral views from their cells found those inmates had fewer health problems. Westphal (2001) found that Alzheimer’s patients had significant improvements to their blood pressure, heart rate, weight, aggressive behavior episodes and required less meds when spending more than ten minutes interacting with nature.
In summary, one could argue that Restorative Environments are required to maintain balance in our daily lives, to keep us “us.”
Restorative Environments (Attentional Recovery + Reflection) –> Recovery = Sense of Self
BUT…..what happens when you or a loved one is hospitalized? How much access do you have to a Restorative Environment? How does one keep a Sense of Self in a hospital?