The Hippo


Jun 2, 2020








Courtesy photo.

The Nature Fix

Where: The Music Hall Loft, 131 Congress St., Portsmouth
When: Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m.
Admission: $41, includes reserved seat, book, bar beverage, author presentation, Q&A and book signing meet-and-greet
Contact:, 436-2400

Green medicine
Florence Williams on The Nature Fix

By Kelly Sennott

 It can be hard to make yourself get outside this time of year, but more often than not, you’ll be happy you did.

Florence Williams discusses a variety of the benefits at an upcoming event, part of The Music Hall’s Innovation and Leadership series, promoting her new book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative, on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m.
The idea for The Nature Fix began in 2012, when Williams moved from the outdoorsy city of Boulder, Colorado, to Washington, D.C., where her husband had taken a job. She’d lived in the Rocky Mountain region more than 20 years and felt disoriented, overwhelmed and had trouble focusing in her new home.
“I really felt like I was experiencing what I’d heard of as Nature Deficit Disorder. It kind of threw me, in terms of my emotional and psychological state of mind and my nervous system. I was having trouble with the noise and feeling upset and anxious,” Williams said via phone.
Was NDD a real thing, she wondered? She got the opportunity to explore the idea, coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, through magazine assignments with Outside Magazine and National Geographic. One of her stories, “This is Your Brain on Nature,” commemorating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, looked at ways people were using the outdoors to boost psychological health around the world, from forest bathing in Japan to wilderness trips in South Korea.
“Researchers believe something really profound happens to our brains after three days in nature — that we can really be helped while recovering from grief or trauma,” she said. “[The assignments] afforded me this great opportunity to find out what was happening in forests and with health policies in places like Japan, South Korea, Finland, Denmark, Scotland and Singapore. Some of those places are pretty far ahead in terms of research, and in terms of this idea, of using nature as medicine.”
For example, in Finland, where many struggle from high rates of depression, alcoholism and suicide, it’s recommended you get five hours of nature a month.
Using nature as medicine or for psychological well-being is not a new idea. The book’s introduction references great minds who did some of their best thinking with fresh air and greenery, like Aristotle, Darwin, Tesla, Einstein, Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. 
“But it’s only been in recent years that we’ve been able to apply new and better technology to [research], things like portable brainwave monitors, brain scanners and big data,” she said. “There are a lot of tools in the toolbox to allow researchers to take this to a new level.”
Williams said her book looks at some of the most recent findings and the people involved — those who are uncovering this data, and those benefitting from it, like vets with PTSD and kids with ADHD. 
She realized she was too stringent with her original definition of nature; you don’t need to be on a mountainside to get the positive effects. You could be by the ocean.
“The ocean facilitates a sense of awe, wonder and self-reflection,” she said. “There’s something about the view, the sound and the smell that help open up all our senses.”
And you can still attain benefits by being in the city, through walks outside, no matter the weather, or by looking out your window.
“Even when it’s miserable outside, we still see benefits, especially in things like working with memory, our attention span and our mood,” she said. “You can find great nature in a city park, and there are even beneficial effects from houseplants and pets.”
Williams has been writing about environmental health for ages. She’s a contributing editor to Outside Magazine and her work has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine and National Geographic, among other publications. Her first book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, looked at the effects a polluted environment has on breast milk.
Williams thinks the idea of using nature as “medicine” can appeal to most readers, but particularly those living in cities or suburban neighborhoods. She’d love to see the writing and scientific findings inspire change in policies within health, education and planning departments, so that people can find more greenery in their lives. 
“We’re busy, and we have all these indoor temptations. But my hope is to kind of remind people that it really is still worthwhile to get outside,” she said.

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