Anyone who has spent time in the great outdoors understands just how relaxing and mentally refreshing it can be. The sun offers important nutrition, the trees provide fresh air, and the greenery encourages us to stay. While that sense of goodness one feels when taking a walk in nature is beneficial in itself, nature’s remedies go much farther than that. The following are just some ways time spent in nature can benefit our mental health.
One significant impact of time spent outdoors is the increased resilience one often feels. An essential factor in the recovery of both mental and physical illnesses, resilience aids a person’s belief in their recovery, and ultimately, their actual full recovery. Studies have shown that nature can act as both a remedy and a resource to people in crises.
Increases connection and social interaction
While it may come as a surprise, extended periods of time spent in nature can increase people’s sense of connection to the world around them. A study done using fMRI machines (or “functional magnetic resonance imaging”) was used to test this theory. As participants viewed scenes of nature, the fMRI showed the brain lighting up in areas associated with love and empathy, whereas when participants viewed urban scenes, the areas of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were triggered.
Improves creativity and problem-solving
There is something about a fresh breath of air that often provides a new perspective. If you’re feeling stumped or like you’ve hit a wall, spend a little time in nature, whether it be sitting on your front porch or taking a hike. You are sure to find a workable solution or surge in motivation.
PLOS ONE published an article titled Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings, which looked at how increased time in nature can improve performance, creativity and problem-solving. Read about its findings here. Spoiler alert: the study does in fact find in favor of time in nature.
Reduces depression, anxiety, and stress
Time and time again, nature has proven beneficial to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that people suffering from depressive disorders, who then engaged in 50-minute nature walks, had an increase in mood and significant memory span. Another study from Van Den Berg and Custers found gardening specifically led to an almost-immediately improved mood, as well.
Head to your local pharmacy store, and you’ll find a whole aisle dedicated to “natural” energy boosters or calming pills, but a simple walk outside can offer the same effects as the coveted “chill pill.” Not only can time spent outdoors reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, it may also induce a sense of calm, regardless of prior emotions.