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Nature Therapy: Reaping the Benefits of the Great Outdoors for Mental Health
Nature is often associated with healing– experientially and spiritually. And science backs this up: nature therapy is becoming increasingly highly regarded for helping to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety and for promoting overall mental well-being.
For many of us, the joy we feel when out in nature is often a foregone conclusion– even if we can’t always make it out of the city and into the countryside without a strong feeling of needing a break. For those of us who experience mental health issues, being in natural settings can be immensely therapeutic. Here are some of the prime benefits to Nature Therapy:
A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology considered 20-minutes of nature exposure to be a ‘micro-break’ that immediately reduced stress. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that a short walk in nature induced significant anxiety relief, compared to a walk in an urban environment. Furthermore, vitamin D absorption from spending time outdoors has been shown to reduce chronic stress.
Simply being around flowers, trees, plants and wildlife brings a good feeling, not to mention a sense of awe and admiration. Studies have found that these natural elements have a positive impact on mental health conditions such as depression. A 2018 study published in Environment and Behaviour found that ‘flower-viewing’ improved mood in Japanese participants.
Focus and Clarity
Spending time in nature is shown to improve overall cognitive functions, encouraging focus and clarity. Being in nature increases concentration as our brains become less cluttered, providing mental clarity and activating the problem-solving part of our brains. Spotting birds and nature’s details helps to focus, and this can enable us to better handle difficult emotions or needs.
Connection and Community
Being outdoors helps to cultivate a sense of connection to the environment and can reduce feelings of alienation or isolation. Doing activities outdoors such as walking, hiking, swimming, paddling, and parks programs, can help to increase social interactions, with both friends and strangers. Even if you are choosing to have time alone in nature, you are part of a larger community when surrounded by trees, plants, water, and all the other natural elements that being outdoors provides.
Being outdoors is important to our overall well-being, even if we’re not necessarily looking to resolve a mental health issue. We can benefit from being outdoors in many ways, including taking pleasure in all the sights, sounds, and smells. Facilitating simple activities such as picnics, swimming, going for a run, and even just sitting outside, are all good ways to bring a sense of enjoyment to our lives.
Nature therapy, whatever form it takes, can provide many mental and emotional benefits. So, whether it’s a country hike, a beach stroll, or a woodland walk, encourage yourself to get out there and reap the benefits of the great outdoors. Increasing your time in nature can and often does lead to improved mental health and overall well-being.