This blog explores why nature is good for mental health. Spending any time in green space or bringing nature into our lives benefits both our mental and physical wellbeing.
Ok, lets get one thing clear I am not a super fit gym bunny. I am a 54-year-old woman with questionable fitness levels. My idea of a good walk is a nice amble to the local pub, a spot of food and a slow stroll home again. I’m not going to be running a marathon anytime soon! I am the last person who is going to tell you to start running miles everyday or taking up a high impact sport. The truth is that just being in the natural world is good for our mental health.
What Nature Can Do For Us
The Mental Health Foundation produced some research about how much the natural world improves our mental health, you can read it here.
Growing food or flowers, being around animals or just getting outdoors has loads of positive effects. Here are some of the reasons why nature is good for mental health:
Improves our mood – vitamin D is really good for this
Get more oxygen – this increases serotonin which improves mood
Reduces anger or stress
Improves our physical health
Helps us feel more connected to nature
Can help us meet others and reduce feelings of loneliness
Exercise makes us sleep better
Nature improves cognitive function – it makes us smarter!
What Can Getting out in Nature Look Like?
In terms of mental health benefits nature can be a lot of things. It can be your local park, the canal, a walk around the local playing field. We don’t have to have ready access to big open spaces to get the benefit of being in nature.
Surprisingly, it has been shown that even watching nature documentaries can be good for our mental health. This is great because it means that the mental health benefits of nature can be available to all of us, no matter where we live.
Nature Improves Cognitive Function
Yes, being in nature makes us smarter! Our brains are designed for survival, hunting, fishing, climbing, collecting food. That’s one of the reason most of us naturally feel at home in a natural environment. Being outside near trees and water boosts our cognitive function as a result. We relax when in nature, we feel comfortable, this allows our minds to reset which makes it easier to concentrate when we get home.
Where is your Special Place?
Take a moment, if you will, to think of a place or scenario where you feel relaxed or at peace. Close your eyes and picture it as vividly as you can. Notice the colours around you, the sounds you can hear, all the little details. Can you hear birdsong? Feel the wind? Smell the grass? As you do this notice the change in your body as you picture the scene. Are your thoughts slowing down? Are you breathing easier? If you feel better imagining this special place in nature, then just think how great you will feel if you are actually there!
Seeing Beauty in the Little Things
Some studies suggest that it is the feeling of awe that nature inspires that makes us feel good. It is easy to see the beauty in a stunning view or a sweeping vista. I think it is equally important to see the beauty in the little things. Notice the colours of a flower. It doesn’t have to be a rare orchid; dandelions are gorgeous if you look closely. Take photos, it is a great way to train your eye to see things differently. Snap the detail of rough bark and tiny bugs.
The Power of Colour
Many people associate the colour green with calm and relaxation. Whether you ascribe certain attributes to colours or not, studies suggest that the presence of green and nature in urban environments reduces the prevalence of mental illness.
Animals and Mental Health
For me, my special place was always around horses, it still is. I have no idea where this came from. There weren’t any horses on the council estate where I grew up! I’m very fortunate that I don’t have to be able to afford my own to get my horsey fix, I ride my friend's instead.
Just being around the horses makes me feel better, calmer, more grounded. Animals see through our bullshit; they see to the core of us. Our ego means nothing to them. I think that is because they are always perfectly rooted in the present and they help us to do that too.
Interacting with animals helps in lots of ways:
Lowers our stress hormones
Stroking an animal lowers blood pressure
They make us feel needed
Increase our sense of self-esteem
Stops us feeling lonely
Supports healthy habits – you have to go and walk the dog!
Last but not least pets give us unconditional love. That is something we all need and may be something many of us didn’t have as children
How Much is Enough?
Most studies indicate that even a few minutes a day in nature can really improve our short-term mood. 10 minutes a day can see measurable improvements.
Work out what is right for you. Go for a short walk, really look at the flowers and the birds. Use this as a time to relax and feel better and more connected to something bigger. If you can manage to maybe extend the 10-minute walk to an hour. Hell, go climb Ben Nevis if that rocks your boat, just don’t expect me to come with you, that sounds exhausting!
If you would like to discuss any of the things in this blog you can use the contact form here. I don't offer walk and talk therapy at the moment but watch this space!