Blog

Four Mental Health Benefits of Nature

Your surrounding environment has one of the biggest impacts on your thoughts and feelings. If you spend time with negative people or live in a messy house, for example, you will feel negative. Research has shown that this stress, in turn, affects your nervous and immune systems, blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension.

Why Does Nature Make You Feel Better? – SciShow Psych

Not getting enough exposure to nature can have a similar effect on your health and psyche. Thankfully these negative influences are easily reversible! There are so many mental health benefits of nature and it’s one of the cheapest, accessible treatments you can get!

Not surprisingly, city-dwellers are one of the biggest groups of people that turn to nature for a therapeutic escape. Nature allows you to unplug from your phone, focus on the present moment, and quiet your mind. This is why mindfulness retreats are often based in such beautiful, scenic areas. Regardless of where you are from, though, or how old you are, you can benefit from nature and its comforting influence. In fact, a recent study found that more than two-thirds of people escape to a natural environment when stressed.

Although there are countless mental health benefits of nature, four major areas will be covered in the scope of this piece. These are:

  1. Stress Relief
  2. Cure Depression
  3. Decrease Anxiety
  4. Treatment for Short-Term Memory Loss
  5. Improve Focus

Stress Relief

When was the last time you just relaxed on the beach? If you’re experiencing high levels of stress, you may want to consult your physician about spending time outdoors before you turn to pharmaceuticals. Getting outside might be just the trick when it comes to feeling more peaceful. Stress is horrible for your immune system and mind—often leading to depression, obesity, and high blood pressure. If you don’t take time to treat your stress, it can be extremely debilitating and unhealthy.

Spending Time Outdoors Might Just Be The Trick To Relieve Your Stress (Image source: Shutterstock)

Multiple studies have shown that nature can be one of the most effective methods to heal stress. In hospitals, for example, a single plant has had huge benefits on health and has been one of the best stress reducers. An easy way to measure whether or not a treatment is reducing your stress is to check your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone and is the main culprit for many of the conditions listed above. One study examined cortisol bloodstream levels in Chinese students that spent their school break hiking or in cities. The students who hiked were found to have much lower cortisol levels than the ones who did not and remained at lower stress levels for several days after their return.

Another way to measure stress levels is to examine the activity of the parasympathetic and autonomic nervous systems. The parasympathetic nervous system governs the “rest and digest” body functions and balances the body’s stress responses from the autonomic nervous system—“fight or flight”. According to research, the parasympathetic nervous system increased even if the participants just viewed nature scenes. This means that by viewing beautiful scenery, people can lower their stress responses and become calmer. The study also found that the more breathtaking and majestic the scene, the more calming the effect!

Therefore, we can deduce that being in nature or even just viewing scenes of nature has a huge impact and can bring us great, positive feelings. It reduces your stress, anger, and fear and makes you feel physically healthy as well. Several scientists believe that it may even make you live longer! For your next vacation, choose to spend time in the great outdoors instead of heading to the city!

Cure Depression

Coping with depression can be very difficult, and different treatments work better for different people. Often nature can also be used to ease depression symptoms—in fact, it has been proven to be very effective. In one study, 95% of the participants found that their depression lessened and they became calmer and more positive after being outside. The exact mechanisms that caused this effect is still unknown, but scientists believe it came down to a few solid factors. Natural environments tend to encourage viewers to automatically focus on the present, clear their minds’ from worries, and be more grateful. In doing so, they temporarily forget their problems or gain some perspective and mental clarity on issues causing their depression.

Fresh air and greenery also promote exercise and physical activity. Most physicians prescribe physical activity for their depressed patients, so combining this with nature boosts your physical and emotional benefits simultaneously. Exercise makes you stronger, gives you more energy, and releases happy chemicals called endorphins into your body. Not only will exercising in nature most likely boost your mood, it will also increase your self-esteem and reduce emotional and mental anguish.

Decrease Anxiety

Sitting outside also helps our bodies slow down and feel more peaceful and relaxed. Physically, this means it reduces our blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. Emotionally, this means it reduces the anxiety that causes these physical responses. The calmer we are, the more we can focus, concentrate, and gain clarity.

Connect With The Environment And Become Grounded (Image source: Shutterstock)

One study conducted in Japan found that “forest-bathing” reduced anxiety, thereby increasing the immune response in participants. Amazingly, it also multiplied anti-cancer proteins and white blood cells that fight disease.

Coming into direct contact with nature has also been proven beneficial. For example, walking barefoot outside allows you to truly connect with your environment and become grounded. Studies have shown this drastically reduces anxiety and improve immune and nervous system functioning. Although exercise to reduce anxiety is also vital, this study focused on the direct result of skin contact with the environment, not the effect of walking outside, per se.

Nature sounds seem to also have similar benefits. This makes sense because they are often used in meditative practice as a way to shut out outside thoughts and anxieties and focus on the present moment.

Lastly, nature also seems to reduce a very specific type of anxiety, and that is anxiety due to poverty. According to several studies, nature gives people a greater sense of connection to each other and the world as a whole. Even placing green spaces or trees around urban housing increased this feeling of community. The more connected neighbors felt the more likely they were to support each other and cope with poverty-stricken situations. In addition, the less anxious they were, the less likely they were to be involved in street crime and aggression.

The most incredible thing is that this connection between nature, community, and reduced anxiety can be physically measured with fMRIs. fMRIs examine blood flow in the brain so they can identify what parts of the brain are activated. In these studies, when participants viewed pictures of nature, the parts of their brain associated with empathy and love responded. On the other hand, when they viewed city scenes, the parts of the brain responsible for anxiety and angst lit up. It seems that the great outdoors gives us a greater feeling of connection to our environment and through that, to all of the people around us.

Treatment for Short Term Memory Loss

Going outside could also be used as a therapeutic tool to increase short-term and working memory. These two parts of your brain govern areas such as remembering where you placed your keys and decision-making. If you find yourself struggling in these areas, spending more time in nature could be the answer!

Nature Enhances The Cognitive Function (Image source: Shutterstock)

More and more information is coming to light that backs this theory. One of the most recent studies was conducted at the University of Michigan and examined the effect that walking in a garden versus a busy street had on students’ memories. Before and after their walks, the participants were given a memory test. Those who wandered outside saw their test scores improve by 20%. However, those who were directed to walk in the city had no improvement.

The researchers conducted a second study to further test these results. In this study, the participants were simply instructed to look at pictures of nature or cityscapes. Once again, the subjects who observed nature images saw greater improvements. These improvements were not as drastic as the original study, however.

Another earlier study also found that pictures of nature also benefited cognition. In this case, cognitive function increased after looking at images of trees and fields, but not industrial scenes.

Nature seems to be a type of brain enhancer. Natural environments calm our minds, let them blow off steam, and let them return to focus. City environments are full of busyness, noise, and bustle that are overwhelming and distracting. Being surrounded by hubbub makes it harder to retain information, thereby depleting short-term memory.

Improve Focus

It’s clear there are so many mental health benefits of nature. But how does it do it? A new study cast more light on why this may be so. Nature allows you to see outside yourself, broaden your perspective, and immerse yourself in a peaceful environment. True mental health is a greater awareness of things around you that aren’t warped by your personal viewpoints. By giving you a connection to something greater than yourself, nature grounds you, gives peace and provides focus.

Nature Environment Calm Our Minds Which Helps Is Focus (Image Source: Shutterstock)

As our world becomes more deprived of the great outdoors, it’s no surprise that our rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses have also increased. Many specialists believe that doctors should be prescribing outdoor activities as much as possible. So next time you’re taking a vacation or want to exercise, head somewhere you can experience the beauty and peace of nature.

Mental Health Benefits

It’s clear there are so many mental health benefits of nature. But how does it do it? A new study cast more light on why this may be so. Nature allows you to see outside yourself, broaden your perspective, and immerse yourself in a peaceful environment. True mental health is a greater awareness of things around you that aren’t warped by your personal viewpoints. By giving you a connection to something greater than yourself, nature grounds you, gives peace and provides focus.

As our world becomes more deprived of the great outdoors, it’s no surprise that our rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses have also increased. Many specialists believe that doctors should be prescribing outdoor activities as much as possible. So next time you’re taking a vacation or want to exercise, head somewhere you can experience the beauty and peace of nature.

Facebook Comments

FOLLOW US
ON INSTAGRAM

@1AND1LIFE

a
b