We see it in movies, on television, and read it in books: we get it, nature is pretty romantic. But too many people overlook the impact that being in nature has on our mental health. Immersing oneself in nature is a means of affecting our mood. It has actually been proven that nature can improve mood disorders in many individuals. Technically, nature cannot cure depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders, but it can certainly alleviate some of the symptoms. All it takes is a walk in the woods.
Sound too simple? Here are some of the benefits to your mental health by being in nature.
Nature is naturally calming.
There’s a reason why many sleep aids come in the form of natural ambience, like seaside ocean waves, birds chirping in the forest, or rain gently falling through trees. Nature creates a sense of serendipity that doesn’t otherwise exist in most urban settings. Nature allows us to recharge and disconnect from our busy, stressful lives and allows us a moment to settle into a more positive mindset.
Some studies even allege that walking barefoot in nature, also called “earthing” may allow us to deepen our connection with nature. It even has some rather surprising MD-approved benefits. Early “earthers” argued that walking barefoot in the earth helps our bodies bond with the “electrons in the earth” but that may really be up to the individual to decide.
Natural lighting may improve our circadian rhythms.
Waking up to an alarm can be jarring! Sometimes, no matter how much sleep we got the previous night, we can still wake up groggy. Poor sleep, accumulated over time, can contribute to the worsening of symptoms from mood disorders like depression. When we spend more time in nature or simply allow ourselves to sleep and wake to the natural dark and light of the great outdoors, we can greatly improve our circadian rhythms and natural sleep patterns. Our internal body clock is naturally attuned to the patterns of sunlight, but when we ignore it or keep our curtains closed, we don’t allow our bodies to normalize in accordance with the shifting of light.
Nature allows us to connect with others.
Nature is a community space where we can consciously engage with others. Social connections are imperative to our mental wellbeing and being outside in nature allows us to disconnect from our technologies and better engage with those around us. Moreover, nature is a great place to participate in community activities, like hiking, sports, climbing, camping, and so on.
There are plenty of options for young children to bond over nature as well. You can enlist your young children in day camps or summer camps, horse riding activities, go picnicking, or even take them to the park every day or few days to allow them to enjoy the fresh air! This may also educate your children on the benefits of the outdoors and allow them to have a better sense of how nature improves their wellbeing from a young age.
Nature allows us to engage with our senses.
A great exercise – especially for individuals who may be struggling with stress or anxiety – is to explore our various senses in conjunction with nature. How does the soil feel under your feet? How does the forest smell? What does the breeze feel like? What sounds do you hear? All of these correlate to connectedness with nature – which may improve mental wellness.
This also goes hand-in-hand with an anxiety-alleviating technique known as “grounding” which involves the usage of the affected individual’s senses to reground the person during an anxious or panic episode.
While nature is certainly beneficial to our health, it is not a cure for serious, clinical mood disorders or mental illnesses. For ailments that you struggle with regularly, or if you are having difficulty coping with a mood disorder, you should contact your doctor or talk to a registered psychiatrist. Nature has its benefits, but it’s not a cure-all! That being said, for people who suffer from occasional mood swings, stress and anxiety, taking a step into the trees may be a great help.