Whether you’re an introvert or an outdoor fitness fanatic, there’s no denying that being in nature has many health benefits. Not least of all our mental health. But when it comes to the mental health benefits of nature, there’s a wide variety to choose from. Nature can mean different things to different people. It could be your own personal garden or greenhouse, a place you spend time with soil and plants. For others, it’s exercising outside or hiking in the local mountains. And while these largely rely on the presence of space, even those living in cities can experience glimpses of nature. Man-made parks and simple window boxes count too, meaning that the mental health benefits of nature can be made available to anyone!
During lockdown, my husband and I started to venture outside to explore our local village. We’d lived there since twenty eighteen and still felt like virtual strangers to the local community. On these walks, we discovered walkways, toe paths, flower arrangements, and even a hidden graveyard which had long since returned to nature. We were taking steps to boost our mental health, while also getting to know our new ‘forever’ home.
With that strange time of my life in mind, here are just some of the mental health benefits of nature I discovered during lockdown.
5+ Mental Health Benefits of Nature.
Nature is linked to increased happiness.
In a study held by Bratman (et al) there was extensive evidence of the mental health benefits that nature holds. Initially, the aim of the study was to determine how city planners can best incorporate natural elements into their infrastructure to lower the impacts of the ‘concrete jungle.’ What was found was that those who connect more with nature report feeling happier in their day-to-day lives than those who don’t.
But why? The simple act of being in nature generates positive emotions such as calmness and helps boost both creativity and concentration. These results are possibly brought on by the absence of technology, excessive noise, stimuli and the presence of natural elements. And it makes sense. Every time I go for a walk along a local forest trail or spend time in the mountains, I feel cut off from the world. Spending so much time being ‘switched on‘ can be exhausting, but when you’re in nature there’s no pressure from the modern world.
It’s no wonder that the natural environment is associated with lower levels of poor mental health, and increased levels of happiness!
Check out this post all about Breathe magazine, and their calming nature edition!
Nature can increase our levels of creativity!
When I begin to feel a creative block, I often find the answer lies in a quick walk. Whether it’s to the local shop or a loop around my usual route, there’s something about fresh air that helps unlock creative ideas. There are various studies which have shown that the time we spend in nature has the ability to help us overcome things such as writer’s block, a dip in artistic creativity and so much more. Better still, a jaunt outside can inspire new ways of thinking and gives our mind the space and time needed to think freely without constraint.
Time in nature increases mental capacity.
Getting outside has been proven to not only help our mental and physical health but also our cognitive ability. No matter your age, being in nature can improve focus, thinking and the ability to learn. Whether it’s the fresh air or the break from electronics and screens, who knows? But the lack of distraction gives our brains time to breathe, leaving room for so much more. Metaphorically speaking.
Naturally reduces anxiety and depression.
Spending time in nature has been proven to reduce levels of anxiety and the symptoms of depression. Not only this but time in nature is also associated with increased levels of confidence, self-esteem and a boost in energy.
A study held in twenty-twenty by Meredith G.R (et al), compared select participants in urban and rural communities from across the globe. Participants spent some time in an urbanised area and the same amount of time in a natural environment. The study concluded that spending just ten minutes in nature positively benefited the mental health of participants, and reduced levels of anxiety and depression.
But what if you don’t have a natural space close at hand? Even spending time in man-made green spaces is enough!
Nature gives us a boost in vitamin D!
Vitamin D is responsible for a variety of things in the body, and acts as a natural mood booster! Think about it! We all feel better when the sun is shining. While this is partially because the sun makes everything feel warmer and lighter, it’s also due to our increased uptake of vitamin D.
And it doesn’t stop there. Vitamin D is also responsible for increased energy levels, fighting depression, warning off disease and absorbing certain minerals such as calcium and phosphate. It’s no wonder that we all feel better and more lively during the summer months.
Spending time outside encourages a digital detox.
There’s long since been a debate surrounding social media and its impacts on our mental health. We constantly hear stories about children as young as six becoming addicted to social media. Or how some have used it to bully and ‘dox‘ influencers, streamers, and even those they know in everyday life.
Despite the pros and cons of social media, it’s possible that you can always experience too much of something. Much like detoxing our bodies, it’s also important to switch off our online presence too. And getting out into nature is the perfect way to do it! It gives us the opportunity to completely shut down from screen time and reduces electronic over-stimulation.
Bonus benefit! Being in nature increases pro-environmental behaviours.
While not directly related to our mental health, it’s worth mentioning that those who spend more time in nature are more likely to be pro-environmental. By this I mean they’re more likely to recycle, reduce their personal meat consumption, or make additional efforts to reduce their overall carbon footprint. At a time of such devastating environmental threads, it’s critical that we attempt to develop a better relationship between the environment and ourselves. And while these efforts may not directly impact our mental health, there are many long-term ways in which they can. Even indirectly.
Participating in environmentalism establishes a sense of community with other like-minded individuals, improves our physical health and may even encourage a feeling called ‘the helper’s high.‘ This feeling makes us feel good for doing good things and is something a lot of people experience when expressing kindness to others.