6 ways that nature benefits our mental wellbeing Posted by Justine Clarabut on 27 August, 2019

There have been many studies around the health benefits of being outside and in touch with nature. Open green spaces such as gardens, fields, parks and woodlands are proven to induce positive feelings. And it’s not just green spaces, experiencing the vast space and raw elements of being by the sea has been reported to have beneficial effects on our mental wellbeing.

More than 50% of the world’s population live in urban areas – it is reported that urban area living is associated with higher levels of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. The lack of being in touch with nature could explain the reason behind this; participants of a study who walked in a natural environment for 90 minutes showed lower levels of repetitive negative thoughts and reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to the risk of mental illness. This was compared with those who walked through an urban environment. Findings also show that growing up in rural versus urban settings is associated with less stress. Reference pnas.org

Dr Miles Richardson, Head of Psychology at the University of Derby says that “feeling a part of nature has been shown to significantly correlate with life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness, and lower cognitive anxiety”

Connecting with nature is personal. For some, it maybe a daunting prospect and possibly difficult to head off to the countryside or even venture out to local garden centre or park. There are many different ways to that we can experience nature on a regular basis. For example; grow your own plants either on your window sill inside or outside if you have a garden or back yard, exercise in your local park, connect with animals and wildlife – hang up a bird feeder outside your window, look at the stars at night and so on.

We look at 6 ways that being in a natural environment and in touch with nature can enhance and improve our mental wellbeing.

  1. Relaxation and a calm mind. An increasing amount of scientific research has been carried out to suggest that being more present can help to alleviate stress and tension. Mindfulness is about being aware of our surroundings; taking a walk in the park or spending time gardening are just two examples of how we can use nature to relieve stress and tension. Research shows that the areas with the highest level of nature have the greatest effect on reducing stress.
  2. Improves self esteem and mood Studies show that exercising in green spaces is not just great for your physical health but for your emotional wellbeing too; and the presence of water increases the benefits even more! According to Havard Health getting outside is good for you in many ways and being exposed to sunlight increases your levels of serotonin (the feel good hormone).
  3. Reduces anxiety. Regular exercise is good for our mental wellbeing but exercising outside in green spaces has been associated with even higher reductions in anxiety. Reference heart.org
  4. Relieves depression and increases memory span. A study showed that participants exhibited significant increases in memory span and enhancement in mood after a nature walk compared to an urban walk.
  5. Relieves feelings of isolation. Spending time with nature connects us to each other with stronger feelings of belonging and to our environment. Being outside also increases our desire to make social connections according to research into the benefits of interacting with nature.
  6. Improves creativity and problem solving! A study showed that a group of walkers completely immersed in nature for four days increased their performance on problem-solving tasks. Being outside helps to clear the mind of stress and tension making way for clearer thinking.

Caring for the environment also has a positive impact on our own lives in more ways than one

It is not just about our own experience and how nature makes us feel. Caring for our environment by protecting nature and the natural world is just as important for us and for future generations to come.

“If we can help people to connect with nature, that’s not just good for them, its great news for nature,” said The Wildlife Trust’s Lucy McRobert. Because, she explains, “the more people that care intrinsically for their local environment and value the positive impact it has on their own lives, the more they’ll want to protect it from destruction”.

References and further reading

https://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567.full#ref-2
https://www.livescience.com/7342-hit-beach-humans-love-water.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160420-how-nature-is-good-for-our-health-and-happiness
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/connecting-with-nature-offers-a-new-approach-to-mental-health-care
https://www.participaction.com/en-ca/blog/7-science-backed-reasons-to-get-outside-immediately
https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/ideas-to-try-in-nature/