10 Ways Spending Time In Nature Can Improve Your Mental Health
May 7th through May 13th is Mental Health Week, where mental health advocates raise awareness about what mental health really is. It’s not just about treating mental illnesses, but having an open and honest conversation about how to be happy, reach your potential, feel like you belong, worry less, and be able to enjoy life.
So how exactly does nature help with mental health?
Nature increases social connection
Spending time nature fosters connections, not just with the Earth, but with other people too. Walking along urban trails and exploring different hiking trails exposes you to people you might not otherwise meet and can help you make new friends. Another excellent way to create new social connections around the environment is to join groups that go on regular nature walks.
Green spaces increase your self esteem
It seems odd that nature would make you feel better about who you are as a person, but a 2005 study confirms it. One group of volunteers were asked to look at pleasant images of rural and urban areas that were filled with trees and green spaces. Another group looked at unpleasant images of rural and urban areas that lacked these green spaces. One control group looked at no images at all. Researchers found that, in conjunction with an exercise regimen, the volunteers who were exposed to pleasant imagery of cities and rural areas had higher self-esteem than those who did not.
Nature makes you more resilient
Edmund Hillary once said, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves,” and two studies, conducted in 2003 and 2008 respectively seem to confirm that to be true. Researchers found that people who expose themselves to nature are stronger in the face of life crises. Time spent in nature made people feel more capable of recovering from personal crises and stressful situations.
Green spaces put you in a better mood
It’s been well documented that exercise releases endorphins which improve your mood, but two studies in 2008 and 2011 found that outdoor activities in nature increased the mood-boosting effects of exercise. Walking, running, or hiking outdoors was found to reduce tension, confusion, anger, and depression while increasing positive thinking, energy, and feelings of overall revitalization. Study volunteers indicated that they would continue outdoor exercise activities beyond the end of the study.
Nature helps you relax
Exercise in nature clearly has its benefits, but so does simply kicking back and enjoying the natural scenery around you. Research conducted at Japan’s Chiba University asked 84 participants to walk through the center of the city while another 84 walked along a path in a forest. Those who spent time in the forest reported a much greater sense of relaxation than those who walked through the city.
Nature improves focus and attention
Cities can be pretty distracting places with traffic, billboards, and unnatural lights everywhere you look. According to one study conducted in 2004, nature has the opposing effect. Natural settings were found to relax the study’s volunteers and sharpen their focus and attention. The greatest improvement was among participants who were diagnosed with an attention disorder. This study also found reduced blood pressure after spending time in nature.
Nature calms you down
While most of this blog’s studies have come from universities, an interesting experiment is underway at a prison. At Oregon’s Snake River Correctional Institute, inmates in solitary confinement were allowed 40 minutes of exercise several times a week. One group exercised in a room with nature videos playing, while the other did not. The results were surprising to the prison staff.
“I thought it was crazy at first,” says corrections officer Michael Lea. “[In the plain gym] there’s a lot of yelling really loud— it echoes horribly. In the blue room they tend not to yell. They say, ‘Hold on, I got to watch my video.’”
Being exposed to videos of nature had a significantly calming effect!
Nature helps patients recover from mental health issues
Sometimes when studies are conducted, unexpected findings can occur. Research conducted at Harvard University studied the mortality rates of 100,000 female nurses around the United States. Nurses who lived near green areas had a 12% lower mortality rate than those who did not. Not only that, but the research revealed that the reason for that lower mortality rate was improved mental health. Nurses who lived near green spaces were much less likely to suffer from depression.
Nature may prevent some mental health issues
In 2009, Dutch researchers found that people who live within a mile of green spaces had a lower chance of experiencing mental illness as well as some physical illnesses. The study concluded that people deprived of nature who spend more time in artificial settings or looking at screens had a higher rate of depression as well as fewer feelings of positivity.
Nature reduces your stress
Stress can be dangerous to your health, and nature may be at least part of the cure. Extensive research has been done on the impact that nature has on stress. One study conducted at the University of Exeter Medical School in England studied the mental health of 10,000 residents. It was clear that those who lived near green spaces experienced less stress, and the stress they did experienced was managed better.
Looking for a forest to ease your mind? Check out our blog about the 6 most beautiful forests in the world!