Wellness - Lessons from Nature
Updated: Mar 19
The wellness boom is a clear indication of our collective aspiration for far more than an absence of sickness - the province of traditional healthcare - instead we seek health optimisation, purpose and fulfilment in the knowledge that life is offering us the opportunity for far more than to feel ‘OK’, or as we Brits are so prone to say – ‘not bad’!
The trouble is this same wellness boom hasn’t been missed by hundreds of companies selling thousands of products, services and opportunities, making the whole thing extremely complicated, confusing and seemingly unattainable!
Having worked in the health and wellness industry for many years I know how complicated it can feel; and as a registered nutritionist with degrees in sport science and human nutrition I understand how complicated it actually is; but, as a coach, I see wellness, at its core, as rather simple. I want to demystify wellness by going back to basics and sharing a perspective from nature.
A Little Perspective
Life on earth has been around for 3.5 billion years, mammals for 200 million years, and we humans (homo sapiens) for a mere 200,000 years, only the last 10,000 of which are in the form of civilisation. We're a flash in the pan!
Put it this way: If the history of earth were a toilet roll, stretched out to full length, we'd be the tip of the perforation on the final sheet! Try it if you get bored!
So why mention this?
Well, we have hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years of evolutionary instinct locked up inside of us, unconscious and primitive, already driving our search for wellbeing. And yet our relatively recent powers of thought and reason have come to dominate how we view the world and our place in it. We've lost perspective and it's masking our ability to recognise our own basic needs.
Lessons from Nature
Everything in nature has a list of basic needs.
Most basic of all is the need for the right environment.
What do you do if a houseplant isn’t thriving? Water it more (or less), feed it, move it or re-pot it, right? You change its environment and watch it hopefully begin to thrive.
Animals are more complicated than plants but still have a list of basic needs. Like plants, animals need the right environment and the right nutrition to thrive. Unlike plants, animals are not content to grow in a pot! They have muscles enabling them to get up and move, and brains capable of making decisions and learning.
Without sufficient freedom to exercise, interact and challenge themselves, animals do not gain the mental and physical stimulation they need to thrive – instead they become anxious, depressed and dysfunctional.
Complex animals are also dependant on care and attention from others to survive. From birth they demand attention and as parents they provide it so their young learn and grow both mentally and physically.
And in social species, where cooperation is key, animals also need to understand their status and role in the community in order to feel secure. If the troop gets too big they lose sight of their place, become anxious and stressed and naturally form smaller groups to regain a sense of control.
Animals instinctively seek out what is rewarding, avoid what is not and are openly expressive about their state of wellbeing.
Humans are far more sophisticated in how we seek out and express our needs, often to our detriment. Our conscious minds give us the unique ability to project, reflect, analyse and question – enabling us to discover and live a life of meaning. Unfortunately, it also means we often think too much, over-intellectualise situations and lose sight of our basic needs.
Like all living things we need the right environment to thrive – not too hot and not too cold! Ice cold aircon, overbearing heat, excessive noise or, in some cases, eerie silence, will immediately limit us.
We also need exercise. We didn’t evolve to stay in our modern ‘caves’ all day! The UK Government recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. My advice is do something, whatever you can manage in your life because it all helps. Even the smallest bursts can have a positive impact on our metabolism, health and wellbeing.
Hand in hand with exercise comes rest, recuperation and sleep. We spend about a third of our lives asleep and for good reason - without it we struggle to function. Sleep helps us repair, learn and grow. Different people need different amounts, but 7 hours is a good target. If you’re not getting enough, having way too much, or your quality of sleep is poor, stop and consider why.
The last basic physical need is nutrition. This is a huge topic, but I’d encourage you to firstly ask yourself this simple question:
“Am I fuelling my body with food to help me thrive?”
If you don’t know the answer then seek advice but if you’re aware of some bad habits, start there.
An undernourished system cannot thrive and saturated one gets clogged up, quite literally!
Humans also share basic emotional needs:
We’re a social species and need to feel connection and security by understanding the motives, expectations and intentions of our ‘troop’ and our role within it. If the group’s too big, we’re isolated from it or our contribution is not valued then we’ll naturally feel unsettled. Consider the challenge of meeting these needs in the modern, open-plan corporate environment with virtual teams and remote working.
Related to this is a need for attention and recognition. There’s such a cultural stigma about attention seeking, but from nature’s perspective without it we die, and without providing it the whole group dies! Hardly surprising we're hardwired to seek it, whatever our chosen way. If we accept this as a natural driver then it may help us be more honest with ourselves and compassionate with others.
We must also learn, grow and achieve to maintain a sense of personal competence. We evolved to strive, contribute and add value to the group so as much as burnout through excessive demand is to be avoided, we must also be wary of ‘rust out’ from boredom.
And finally, as social as we are, we also need a sense of privacy and autonomy. We have an instinctive drive to retreat, escape from the group and decompress, without which we can become anxious and overwhelmed. We need the freedom to roam and, at times, to do it our way!
As humans we’re blessed with minds that enable us to create and live lives full of purpose and meaning. And yet, as special and as complicated as we are, we a rooted in hundreds of millions of years of evolution and the same basic needs as all life on earth. It's not easy to balance, but awareness and appreciation of our common needs can only help.
If you want to be at your best and optimise your wellness, I encourage you to go back to basics. Look at your basic human needs and start there, for as smart as we think we are, nature is a lot smarter!
For more information go to www.stillwater-coaching.co.uk
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This article is also available at https://www.lifecoach-directory.org.uk/memberarticles/wellness-lessons-from-nature