Advice and tips, My Experiences

Vitamin N – The benefit of nature on mental health

This is the view as I write this post. I’m currently sitting outside enjoying a rare British summer bank holiday weekend where it isn’t raining. As I sit here I feel strangely peaceful, at one with nature (although I am aware of the fact that currently I’m typing on a laptop). The summer breeze, the sound of the birds, the whole sensation of just being outside in the open and just existing is so calming. This got me wondering why this is the case, why does nature appear to ease humans worries and make us feel so calm? I did a bit of research and found out the following (quite interesting) information regarding the links between nature and mental health.

It can decrease stress

Spending time outdoors can help to relieve tension and anxiety. One study [1] found that students that spent two days in the forest were less stressed when compared to students that had spent the same amount of time in a city environment . This study found being outside to lead to lower levels of  cortisol, which is a hormone often associated with stress. Researchers suggest that  spending as little as 20 minutes exposed to nature a day can significantly reduce cortisol levels in an individual [2].

It may help ease depression and anxiety

A previous study [3] has found that spending time outdoors can lead to decreased anxiety and depression for some individuals. Another study [4] suggests that individuals who spend time in nature show less neural activity in the part of the brain associated with depression when compared to those who spent time in a city environment. Because of this previous work, some researchers [5] even actively recommend spending time walking outdoors as a supplement to other treatments for major depressive disorder.

It can boost your mood

Some studies have found spending time outside to lead to positive effects on individuals moods, making them feel happier [1][2]. This is attributed to the exposure to natural light that you get from being outside, which fills your mind with a feeling of well-being [6]. 

It can reduce mental fatigue

So much of our lives nowadays are spent looking at screens or interacting with technology which can lead to stress. Stress can be caused by a number of factors, for example you may receive a tough work email or you could be on social media observing how perfect everyone’s lives appear to be when compared to your own (definitely never done this whilst eating a tub of ice cream on a Friday night…)

Being outside allows you to step away from the screen, which can give your brain a rest, allowing your mind to rejuvenate. Previous studies [7] have found a positive link between spending time outdoors and reducing mental fatigue. They found that being outside in a natural environment required less directed attention. In contrast, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically, often requiring directed attention, for example you are actively always avoiding walking into people or being hit by a car.

Further to the information above I also found out that some countries have incorporated the act of spending time outdoors into their culture. In Japan, spending time walking around forests is a very popular form of preventative health care, known as forest bathing or shinrin-yoku.

In Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, the value of spending time outdoors is known as friluftsliv, which translates to “open air life.” Friluftsliv encourages a connection with nature and encourage children to play outdoors and explore the world around them. Finnish schools allow plenty of time for their students to play outdoors during the day. This system of blending work and outdoor play has resulted in students achieving more academically when compared to other countries on a global scale.

I’ve made this post a relatively short one, as I’m going to close my laptop down now and just sit outside for a while. If you can, I advise most of you to give yourself a break and to try and do the same, if only for a couple of minutes. Breathe deeply and open your senses to the environment around you. Make the most of the nice weather while it’s here as I’m sure we will all have our thermals and wooly coats on in a couple of days time if typical British weather is anything to go by. 

So, in a technology driven world, be a rebel and put the phone down for a minute or two. Why not reintroduce yourself to mother nature, have a cup of tea (there are other great beverages available) and have a bit of a catch-up together. 

References

  1. Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 9.
  2. Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 18.
  3. Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental science & technology, 44(10), 3947-3955.
  4. University, S. (2019). Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. Retrieved 27 August 2019, from https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/
  5. Friedman, L., & Loria, K. (2019). 11 scientific reasons you should be spending more time outside. Retrieved 27 August 2019, from https://www.businessinsider.com/scientific-benefits-of-nature-outdoors-2016-4?r=US&IR=T
  6. Park, A. (2019) Why sunlight is so good for you Retrieved 27 August 2019, from https://time.com/4888327/why-sunlight-is-so-good-for-you/ 
  7. Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological science, 19(12), 1207-1212.


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