Nature as a free source of empowerment – A northern perspective


96 % of Finns see the nature as an important part of their personality.  For them, hiking in forests, berry picking or swimming in a lake is a natural part of their life’s. When moving from a desert to a northern village, all this may seem strange and even frightening. But why could it be good for an immigrant or a refugee to learn about northern nature?

In the western world, stress and mental health problems are width spread. According to WHO, 27 % of the European population – 83 million people – has suffered from a mental health problem during the last year.  Already Sigmund Freud thought that this is due to cities and “civilization”. But an American psychologist Benjamin Rush wrote in his thesis already in 1812:

It has been noticed that in all hospitals those male connoisseurs who aid in tree cleavage, fire, and garden excavations – often recover, while those who do not have the power to carry out such servitudes will live forever in the hospital walls.”

Difficult environment, living in a war zone or in other stressful environment effects one’s health. As well a natural environment ease’s the stress and helps one to revitalize. Pulse and blood pressure falls, and nature also increases social wellbeing and a sense of community: In nature, we see other people more positive way.

There is undeniable evidence that the accessible environment is important in preventative health care. Activity of frontal brain (better known as “centre of worries”) is suppressed when one is walking in nature. There is also a clear correlation between the state of health and the number of trees in an area.

The natural environment  contains microbes that keep our immune system healthy. Mycobacterium vaccae is a soil bacterium which exposure may reduce anxiety and increase serotonin delivery. Phytonids, i.e. aromatic substances, aka pleasant smells of trees, may increase the amount of NK cells (that is, natural killer cells that protect us from pathogens). Phytonides are antibacterial and they reduce the stress level by 53% and blood pressure by 5-7%

Ritajarvi path

Living in nature adds a sense of togetherness. This should be taken into account in the integration of immigrants. The most effective way to embrace new things is to participate, do and experience things together, and to internalize new ways into your own everyday life. Volunteer organizations could be the guides to the local nature providing experience in fishing, berry picking, hiking or forest baths. Nature is a neutral element which does not require language skills.

Karkku Refugee Center has carried out nature activities for refugees. When information about regulations, safety and the local natural environment is given in advance, all the participants have enjoyed the activities. Forests, which are homelike environments for Finns, becomes a place of cosiness and relaxation also for new-comers.

Please read from IIRA goes to FOREST for more about the good effects of nature for us!

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