Have you ever noticed that when springtime comes, and the plants start to peak out, breaking through winter’s frozen ground, you start to feel refreshed? Have you ever been on a walk, mindlessly strolling, taking in the song of the birds, and notice a mood change afterwards? What about when you feel the sun on your skin accompanied by a long, cool breeze? We’ve seen an influx of messages on social media related to spending time outdoors, gardening, going for walks, etc. and the messenger is always promising relief for distress. There’s an easy way of dismissing something that seems far-fetched, or maybe even feels like work, so it’s harder to open our minds to a new opportunity. Turns out, those feelings of peace and contentment aren’t a coincidence. Science has studied the connection and the findings show that being outdoors is beneficial to mental health.
According to a study conducted by Mind, charity organization for mental health, a nature walk reduced symptoms of depression in 71% of the participants, as compared to only 45% of those participants who walked through a shopping center. Another study performed by University of Chicago’s Marc Berman, PhD, and colleagues found that participants who listened to sounds of nature, such as birds chirping or waves crashing on a shoreline, performed better on cognitive tests than their partners who listened to urban sounds. Lastly, in reviewing the research on the connection between nature and happiness, University of Washington’s assistant professor Gregory Bratman, PhD, and colleagues found evidence that contact with nature can be associated with increased happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions, and a sense of meaning and purpose of life, resulting in decreased mental distress.
So, what does this mean for the average person? We can use nature and being outdoors to our advantage when it comes to treating our mental health. It’s important to note that learning new coping skills, exploring what tools work best, and using them in real time is the ultimate goal for tolerating stress. We happen to have an easily accessible environment to enhance our wellbeing.
Here are some examples of how to practice coping mechanisms in an outdoor environment:
· Take a walk through the park
· Enjoy a coffee or tea outside
· Listen to birds chirping from the window
· Sit in sunlight for up to 10 minutes a day
· Listen to music outdoors
· Enjoy a meal under the stars
· Cloud gazing during the day or star gazing at night
· Pick wildflowers and bring inside
It’s important to consider if going outside isn’t easily available to everyone, it can feel like a task. Honestly, even if it is something readily accessible, it can still feel like a task. Try to be considerate of how you spend your time in nature. Maybe start small, with sitting near a window watching for birds or having plants inside the home. However you choose to enjoy nature, it’s all beneficial to coping with uncomfortable emotions. Nature is our endless supply of endorphins, serotonin, and exploration. It is important to connect with our environment to feel grounded and centered. Next time you find yourself feeling that need for a release, try coping with nature.
MIND. (2007). Ecotherapy: The green agenda for mental health. Retrieved from http://www.mind.org.uk/media/273470/ecotherapy.pdf
Berman, M.G., et al., American Psychologist, 2019
Nature and Mental Health: An Ecosystem Service Perspective
Bratman, G.N., et al., Science Advances, 2019