HOW NATURE CAN BENEFIT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Most of us enjoy the benefits of nature from time to time. As you get to know more about me better, you’ll learn about my deep fascination with the stars. And there’s a reason we are often so drawn to nature: it’s a part of us and our world. After all…
“We are made of star stuff”. – Carl Sagan
When you’re suffering through a lot of negative emotions due to a traumatic experience or loss in life, you may be surprised to know you can really use nature to your advantage. Let’s dive in a bit deeper and explore why, shall we?
Improving Your Mental Health in Nature
There are fascinating ways exposure to nature can help improve mental health. According to an article on the Huffington Post, “walking it off” in nature can really help with stress release. And studies at the University of Michigan showed many mental health benefits from group nature walks, including overall better wellness and lower levels of stress and depression.
And get this: the benefits appeared especially abundant in those who had recently experienced something traumatic, such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a divorce. The common term for this is ecotherapy, referring to the many psychological and physical benefits of being in nature.
In fact, according to a study from 2009, a person is likely to be healthier the closer they lived to a nature area or green space. Not only that—a person is less likely to suffer depression or anxiety the closer they lived to a nature preserve, park, or wooded area.
Other studies have also shown people experience lower rates of stress disorders and better recovery from stressful experiences after spending time in nature regularly.
Even children who have ADD/ADHD can experience fewer symptoms after being active outside in places with lots of greenery. Nature can work wonders for us at any age!
Physical Health Benefits
Besides the boost in mood and mental health, spending time in nature is also associated with lower heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. And that’s not all! Other studies show improvements in immune system function and sleep too.
It’s not surprising, since we’re more likely to be active when outside enjoying the amazing scenery and fresh air. Plus, being outdoors gives us more exposure to Vitamin D—and a deficiency in Vitamin D has been associated with depression.
How to Boost Your Mood Through Nature
In my blog post, “3 Tips for Getting Through the Lows of Life,” I mention walking as a great exercise for treating yourself and boosting your mood. The same applies here! It’s been shown that someone jogging outside is 50 percent happier than if they were using a gym for working out.
If you don’t have easy access to a lot of greenery, try engaging your other senses besides sight, like listening to recorded nature sounds. Hearing nature—and even smelling natural foods like food and fruit fragrances—may also help in recovering from psychological stress faster.
A study by Roger Ulrich, a well-known researcher in this field, even showed in a study that intensive care unit patients had a reduction in anxiety and pain medication needs after simply looking at pictures of water and trees! Isn’t that amazing?
So, even if you live in an area with limited resources, exposing yourself to nature as much as possible—even in forms that aren’t “real” like pictures or nature sounds—may positively influence your mental wellness.
And for the best possible benefits, find a green area near you and go walking. A nature walk is an inexpensive and easily accessible form of therapy that most people can use anytime. Plus, walking in nature can be its own form of meditation—a way to get out of your own worries for a while and bring you more peace of mind on your journey.
Try it out for yourself by taking daily walks yourself or joining an outdoor walking or hiking group. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you.