Posted May 10th 2021
One of the most common suggestions listed on lots of mental health websites is ‘spending time in nature’ – but why is this? How can nature improve our mental health?
There are many relaxing aspects of being in nature, which can include the soothing sounds of water running from streams, trees rustling and birds chirping.
Nature is often open and vast, allowing people to feel free and liberated which provides an escape from being home all day.
Being outdoors also helps us to have fresh air and is often associated with being active, something that evidence has consistently shown to be positively linked with good mental health and well-being.
Taking your attention away from arousing stimuli such as phones and laptops to focus on elements of nature such as trees and other greenery has been shown to help distract our minds from negative thinking and rumination.
In addition, interacting with natural spaces can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can calm the body’s fight-or-flight response.
The science behind the feeling
Spending time outdoors and in the sun also has been shown to help with our vitamin and hormone intake.
Studies have shown that people who spend little time in daylight may produce less melatonin. If this hormone is imbalanced, it can affect mood and contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Additionally, being in sunlight is essential for our intake of vitamin D. A lack of vitamin D has been found to be associated with fatigue and can correlate strongly with depression. This demonstrates just how important it is for us to spend time regularly outdoors, in daylight and nature in order to maintain good mental health.
Other general benefits of nature on mental health include:
- Improves mood
- Reduces feelings of stress or anger
- Encourages connection with others
- Enhances mindfulness practices
- Improves confidence and self-esteem
The emergence of ecotherapy
One form of therapy that recognises nature’s benefits on mental health is ecotherapy.
This is a formal type of treatment which involves doing outdoor activities in nature. This is normally led by trained professionals or therapists and it is more activity-oriented rather than health-based.
It takes place in a green environment and is related to appreciating the natural world and feeling more grounded in natural surroundings.
There are a number of different types of ecotherapy programmes which includes various activities such as physical activities (rock climbing, rafting), animal interventions (spending time with animals) and care farming (growing crops or looking after woodland).
All these types of ecotherapy have shown success in improving the mental health and well-being of many people and this purely just from spending more time outdoors and in nature- so simple but so effective!
Looking for ideas for fun activities to do in nature?
Here are some tips and tricks for you to try:
- Grow or pick food
You could then use this food to cook up a yummy meal!
- Bring nature inside
Connecting with nature doesn’t always have to be an outdoors activity. You could bring aspects of outdoor life into your home by nurturing plants, listening to nature sounds on music devices or taking photos of nature and pinning them up inside.
- Do activities outdoors
Being productive inside is great-but why not bring it outdoors? This could be done for simple activities such as reading, exercising or eating your lunch!
- Connect with animals
Studies have shown that interacting with animals can decrease levels of cortisol (stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other evidence suggests that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support and boost your mood.
- Help the environment
The act of helping someone or something to make the world a better place often brings great feelings of joy and purpose. Enhancing these positive, kind emotions also brings them to the forefront of your mind, making them more readily accessible during different parts of the day.
- Practise mindfulness/meditation outdoors
This could involve focusing on nature and grounding yourself to feel closer and connected with the earth. Feelings of gratitude towards nature and its beauty is also an effective mindfulness meditation strategy.
From my experience of spending time in nature, I find that it helps remind me that I am a part of something bigger, in fact, we all are.
Everything around us was built and made from the earth, including ourselves. This sense of connectedness to everything and everyone around us is humbling and makes me feel closer to the wider, natural world around us.
Finally, nature is beautiful. Beauty is a fundamental aspect of ‘human being’, and appreciating nature in its pure, raw abundance is key to the many well-being benefits of nature connectedness.
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