• Rikki Aherne

How Nature Can Impact Our Mental Health

Many of us live fast-paced urban lives. Pounding the pavements of a concrete jungle, rarely seeing anything we think of as nature. This busy lifestyle we all seem to adopt can negatively impact our health and well-being.

One way of reducing the impact of this fast-paced life is to get out and experience nature. Not only is experiencing nature enjoyable, it has many benefits for our physical and mental health.

For anyone thinking, ‘I don’t have the time or resources to pop to the countryside or climb a mountain’, walking in a park, along the river or through the local woodlands all count as being in nature.

For those of you living in the thickest urban jungles, simply being out in the daylight and seeing the trees in the street is being in nature.

Even the smallest tree or green space can spark as much joy and relaxation as the biggest space or view.

A simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety. House plants and window boxes are a good way to experience nature closer to home, even in the most urban or compact of spaces.

What Are The Benefits?

In 1984, biologist Edward O. Wilson made the connection between feeling good and nature with his “biophilia” hypothesis. His idea was that the environment in which humans evolved, shaped our brain in a way that primed it to respond positively to cues that would have enhanced survival for our ancestors. These positive cues include trees, lakes and waterways. Wilson argued that this is why being in nature makes us feel good.

Being in nature has been shown to reduce anger, fear, and stress whilst increasing pleasant feelings.

Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical health too. It reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

Many studies have found a positive link between access to green space and a reduced risk of mental health problems. Access to fields, forests, parks, and gardens improves mood and increases life satisfaction. Other benefits of nature include reduced stress, increased physical activity, and better physical health.

Evidence shows a link between spending time outdoors and how physically active we are. We all know the benefits of having an active lifestyle for our physical health but it also benefits our mental health. When we walk or run in natural environments, compared to indoors, it gives us an extra boost. This helps to reduce feelings of anger, fatigue, and sadness. These benefits are seen after as little as five minutes of exercise in green spaces.

Getting enough exposure to sunlight (in a sun safe way) is important in the production of vitamin D. Studies suggest that those who live in Northern Europe don’t produce enough vitamin D during the winter months. It is thought that this deficiency leads to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Getting out in nature can help reduce the fatigue and depression associated with SAD.

There is a new type of wellness centred therapy called ‘forest therapy’ or ‘forest bathing’ (famously known as Shinrin Yoku in Japan). This movement involves spending active time in a forest observing our surroundings and using all of our senses. Benefits are related to how our senses connect us to the environment around us. This can involve the shapes and colours in nature we see, the scents that we experience, and the fascination that nature can stimulate, which all help our mind to rest.

Some studies suggest that being around animals and wildlife may be beneficial for overall well-being. They have found that activities involving observing and interacting with wildlife in their natural habitat can improve people’s feelings of wellbeing, relaxation, and connection to nature. These activities may include bird watching, fishing or watching deer in the park.

How Much Time Should I Spend In Nature?

The point of spending time in nature is to make that time and interaction a part of your normal everyday lifestyle. Your time with nature could be something as simple as a daily walk in the park or a weekend hike. You can try to combine your experiences of nature with your regular exercise by walking, running or cycling outdoors rather than indoors. You can start to walk to work or to the local shop to get more time being in nature.

The type of nature you experience doesn’t matter, as long as it is something pleasing to you.

The idea is to escape the urban jungle or your busy schedule by surrounding yourself with something more natural. It is worth making the time for nature, in whatever way works for you, even when things get busy and other priorities feel more important.

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