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Losing Eden

Why Our Minds Need the Wild

By Lucy Jones
16-minute read
Audio available
Losing Eden by Lucy Jones

Losing Eden (2020) explores how modern alienation from the natural world is causing a global mental health crisis – and how we can reintroduce nature to our lives. Author Lucy Jones embarks on a fascinating journey through new scientific research that shows why forging a bond with nature is critical for our health and wellness, while also raising awareness about the alarming effects of its absence.

  • Nature lovers who are worried about the future of the planet
  • Anyone interested in boosting their mental health 
  • People concerned with socioeconomic inequality

Lucy Jones is a writer, journalist, and author of Foxes Unearthed (2015). She previously worked at NME and the Daily Telegraph and has written about culture, science, and nature for BBC Earth, BBC Wildlife, The Sunday Times, the Guardian, and the New Statesman.

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Losing Eden

Why Our Minds Need the Wild

By Lucy Jones
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Losing Eden by Lucy Jones
Synopsis

Losing Eden (2020) explores how modern alienation from the natural world is causing a global mental health crisis – and how we can reintroduce nature to our lives. Author Lucy Jones embarks on a fascinating journey through new scientific research that shows why forging a bond with nature is critical for our health and wellness, while also raising awareness about the alarming effects of its absence.

Key idea 1 of 10

Lack of engagement and connection with nature has triggered a global mental health crisis.

When author Lucy Jones was recovering from alcoholism, four elements helped her start anew: psychotherapy, medication, community, and nature. The latter came as a surprise – she found it almost by accident when she moved into a new apartment and became emotionally attached to a pear tree outside her bedroom window.

Jones loved to gaze at it: rooted, growing, changing, living. When scaffolding went up for construction work on her upstairs neighbors’ apartment, blocking her view of the tree, she realized how much she’d relied on the calmness it brought. Her mental health even began to suffer.

So she set out to find out why and landed on a new, important area of scientific research that explores how contact with nature affects our minds.

The key message here is: Lack of engagement and connection with nature has triggered a global mental health crisis.

Emerging scientific evidence shows that contact with natural environments actually promotes better mental and physical health on a cellular level. For example: in multiple studies, neuroscientist Christopher Lowry injected mice with M. vaccae, a species of bacteria found in soil. He found that it boosted their serotonin levels and prevented stress. “These studies . . . leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all spend more time playing in the dirt,” he told the BBC.

What’s more, people typically contain vastly more microbial cells than human cells in their bodies. Microbiota promote health when they’re diverse – which is possible through exposure to a variety of organisms, more often found outdoors. Diverse microbiota can treat or block chronic, systemic inflammation, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, inflammatory disorders, and depression.

Take one 2018 study that examined 20 young men who’d grown up in either the city or the country. They were asked to prepare a speech and do a tricky mental arithmetic test. The urban dwellers had higher numbers of white blood cells and pro-inflammatory cytokines in the blood, a higher social stress response – suggesting that people who live in cities are at increased risk of chronic inflammation.

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 is resulting in an extinction of experience, a term coined by American ecologist and entomologist Robert Pyle. This describes a vicious cycle that links apathy with ecological destruction: the extinction of common species leads to ignorance and a fraying of our connection with the natural world – which leads to lack of care for the planet. This, in turn, brings about even further extinction, which fuels the mental health problems that result from a more barren world.

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