Landscape photography, nature and well-being

Landscape photography is beneficial to self-development, self-discovery and eudaimonic wellbeing. To the photographer, that is, and hopefully to others as well. In particular, landscape photography and post-photography processing can connect the photographer with nature. Research on well-being has explored two general perspectives: a hedonic approach, in which happiness and well-being are about pleasure attainment and pain avoidance, and a eudaimonic approach, in which meaning, self-realization and the degree to which a person is fully functioning are important. This post explores the links between landscape photography, nature connectedness and well-being

The beneficial role of nature connectedness in well-being has been suggested in recent publications:

The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety, Martyn, Patricia, Brymer, Eric., Journal of Health Psychology, 2016, 21: 1436-1445.

Are nature lovers happy? On various indicators of well-being and connectedness with nature. Cervinka, Renate, Roderer, Kathrin, Hefler, Elisabeth. Journal of Health Psychology, 2012, 17: 379-388.

Flourishing in nature: A review of the benefits of connecting with nature and its application as a wellbeing intervention. Capaldi, C. A., Passmore, H.-A., Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M., & Dopko, R. L.  International Journal of Wellbeing, 2015, 5(4), 1-16.

Natural environments have a stress-reducing or restorative influence, a form of homeostasis, while urban environments have the opposite effect.  Roger S Ulrich et al. (1991) showed 120 participants a stressful movie, and then videotapes of different natural and urban settings. Stress recovery measures were obtained from self-ratings of affective states and a battery of physiological measures: heart period, muscle tension, skin conductance and pulse transit time, a non-invasive measure that correlates with systolic blood pressure.

Recovery was “faster and more complete when people experienced natural rather than urban environments. The pattern of findings indicated that responses to nature had a salient parasympathetic nervous system component; however, there was no evidence of pronounced parasympathetic involvement with urban settings.”  Findings were consistent in showing the restorative influence of nature to produce a shift towards a positively-toned feelings and sustained attention.

Liz Brewster and Andrew Cox study the connection between involvement in digital communities and well-being by examining ‘digital daily practice’. Digital daily practices involves doing one thing – exercise, photography or writing – every day and sharing it online. They explored the digital daily practice, photo-a-day, to understand the ‘affordances’ it offers for well-being. They found that: “Photo-a-day is not a simple and uncomplicated practice; rather it is the complex affordances and variance within the practice that relate it to well-being. We conclude that this practice has multifaceted benefits for improving well-being.”

C Yuill and colleagues highlight that “human social agents are embedded in particular landscapes and it is in landscapes that environmental changes are experienced, which can have implications for wellbeing.”  They study  how environmental change impacts on health and well-being. They analysed the connections between landscape, environment and wellbeing in Xuan Thuy National Park in north Vietnam (see photograph below). This area is in a precarious coastal region where extreme weather events can impact on the wellbeing of both humans and other living things. They state: “Landscapes can be protective of wellbeing or can be affected by rises in temperature, changes in sea level or extreme weather events which exert serious negative implications for wellbeing.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 11.23.21 Reproduced from Yuill et al. 2018.

The harmony between humans and the environment is under significant threat.  The natural level of homeostasis is being disrupted. This disruption is causing increases in anxiety, depression and chronic stress. These processes in turn have a domino effect on many physical indicators of well-being including overweight and obesity. The current threats to homeostasis between human well-being and the physical landscape cannot be underestimated. The landscape photographer plays a key role in documenting landscape change.  Photographs are a significant tool in rebalancing disequilibrium between human beings and the natural environment. The ultimate goal of all living beings is the preservation of homeostasis. Environmental activists use photography in their struggle for conservation.

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Homeostasis Theory of Well-being

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Homeostasis is a singular unifying principle for all living beings. Homeostasis operates at all levels of nature in every living system: in molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, societies, ecosystems and the planet as a whole (Lovelock, 2009). Tissue homeostasis regulates the birth (mitosis) and death of cells (apoptosis); many diseases are directly attributable to defective homeostasis leading to over production or under production of new cells relative to cell deletion (Fadeel & Orrenius, 2005).

Biochemical and physiological feedback loops regulate billions of cells and thousands of compounds and reactions in the human body to maintain body temperature, metabolism, blood pH, fluid levels, blood glucose and insulin concentrations inside the body (Matthews et al., 1985). A body in good physical health is in biochemical and physiological homeostasis. Severe disruptions of homeostasis cause illnesses or can be fatal.

The General Theory of Behaviour (GTB) extends the principle to behaviour, experience and psychological well-being.

ABCD tetrad
A basic structure for homeostasis of behaviour
[Illustration credit: Graham McPhee]

The General Theory proposes that all behaviour and experience follow the principle of homeostasis (Marks, 2015, 2016, 2018). The GTB distinguishes between Physiological or ‘Type I’ Homeostasis and Psychological or ‘Type II’ Homeostasis. Other types of homeostasis operate at higher levels of organisation including the social level (Type III Homeostasis) and the ecological level (Type IV Homeostasis).

A person in good health is in a state of homeostatic balance that operates across systems of biochemical/physiological, psychological, social and ecological homeostasis. Outward and inward stability in a living being is only possible with constant accommodation and adaptation. All living beings strive to maintain equilibrium and stability with the surrounding environment through millions of micro-adjustments and adaptations to the continuously changing circumstances. Adjustments and adaptations can be both conscious and unconscious. The majority of fine adjustments are occurring at an unconscious level, hidden from both external observers and the individual actor.

The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being utilises the fact that human beings are natural agents of change. Humans adapt, accommodate and ameliorate under continuously changing conditions, both external and internal, to maximise the stability of physical and mental well-being. The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being (HTW) is illustrated below.

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 14.38.20
The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being (Marks, 2015)

Well-being is the outcome of a multiplex of continuously changing feedback loops in a system of psychological homeostasis with four main component processes: well-being; cognitive appraisal; emotion; and action. Homeostasis maintain both physical and psychological equilibrium with the ever-changing external and internal environments, courtesy of an infinitude of micro-feedback-systems that fall within four macrosystems.

Psychological homeostasis regulates through feedback loops that control thought, emotion and action. Continuously flexible micro-adjustments of activity within feedback loops maintain equilibrium from moment to moment. Psychological homeostasis occurs in response to the infinite variety of circumstances that can affect well-being, including both internal adjustments (e.g. emotional regulation) and external adjustments using deliberate behavioural regulation (e.g. communicating, working, eating and drinking). In synchrony and synergy with all of the body’s other homeostatic mechanisms, psychological homeostasis operates throughout life during both waking and sleep.

In prevention and treatment of clinical conditions, individuals can help themselves and be helped by external techno aids to monitor and maintain physiological variables using behavioural forms of homeostasis, e.g. in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, thyroid problems, skin disorders such as urticaria, or obesity. Biochemical, physiological and psychological homeostasis are of similar complexity. Behavioural forms of homeostasis occur in actions designed to support neural systems of regulation. Social homeostasis in supportive actions by other humans, requested or volunteered, provides another way to support and protect an individual’s well-being.

Inputs to homeostasis include technological systems such as: (1) scales for measuring body weight; (2) thermometers to measure body temperature; (3) pulse measurements; (4) electro-mechanical homeostasis, developed by engineers to enhance human control systems such as heating (thermostat), driving (cruise control), navigation (automatic pilot), and space exploration (computer navigation systems); (5) life support systems (e.g. artificial respirators, drip feeding, kidney dialysis, intensive care units); (6) medical and surgical interventions; (7) pharmaceutics; (8) alternative and complementary therapies; (9) yoga and meditation.

People are social and emotional beings and these features need to be restored into theories of behaviour. The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being needs to be tested in randomised controlled trials and prospective studies to determine its scientific validity and applicability to health care.