There is mounting evidence that nature has powerful effects on mental health — from relieving stress to elevating moods. It may help prevent depression and lessen the negative consequences of psychosis as well.
Researchers have observed that those who spend time outdoors tend to be more creative, serene and have improved concentration skills compared to those who don’t. Furthermore, being in nature may make us nicer towards others.
1. Reduces Stress
No matter your stressors, taking time out in nature is an effective way to reduce and manage them. Being outdoors helps your body relax and decompress, which is essential for mental health and wellness.
Furthermore, being outdoors offers opportunities for social interaction with others and opens you up to the larger world. This can promote improved relationships and a sense of community, both of which have positive effects on mental health.
However, a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology has raised an important issue: what amount of outdoor time should college-age students get to promote positive mental health effects? Using an adaptive management approach, researchers were able to determine which type of engagement with nature was most efficient at decreasing salivary cortisol levels and alpha-amylase concentrations – two biomarkers associated with physiological stress.
2. Increases Focus
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed and unable to focus on a task, spending time outside may help. Studies have demonstrated that even just a few minutes outside can improve attention and focus levels.
In 2015, researchers discovered that participants who walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting experienced lower activity in the brain region associated with rumination — repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.
Another study in psychiatric units discovered that being outdoors reduced feelings of isolation, promoted calmness and lifted moods among patients. It’s also beneficial to feel connected to nature which can be achieved by simply gazing upon an image of a natural scene for 40 seconds.
3. Increases Creativity
Many creative individuals spend a great deal of time indoors, often under dim lighting. But a recent study revealed that spending time outside in nature actually enhances creativity. They discovered that someone’s capacity for coming up with ideas improved by 50% after four days spent outdoors.
Researchers conducted a test that assessed participants’ creative abilities, such as imagination, novel ideas, feelings and stories. Additionally, they assessed participants’ level of naturalness which they discovered to influence creativity levels.
Researchers devised the Creativity Index (CI), measuring creativity on a scale from one to seventy-six. To test how perceived naturalness affected this score, they looked at perceived ability to think outside the box and be flexible. Results revealed that perceived naturalness was closely tied to creativity ability and flexibility.
4. Reduces Anxiety
Studies have demonstrated that spending time outdoors reduces blood pressure, reduces stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline, improves moods, strengthens immunity, promotes sleep quality and boosts self-worth.
Researchers refer to this feeling of connection to nature as “nature relatedness,” also referred to as connectedness or inclusion of nature into one’s self. It has been linked to improved mental health outcomes including reduced risks for anxiety, depression and other disorders.
Research has demonstrated that spending 10-20 minutes each day outdoors in nature can have beneficial effects on one’s mental health and overall well-being. It is essential to remember, however, that these benefits only take hold when spending time in a safe and enjoyable environment.
5. Increases Social Interaction
Spending time outdoors can foster new connections with others, lift one’s mood and reduce stress levels. A growing body of research confirms these benefits.
Additionally, researchers are uncovering a number of nonmaterial ‘pathways’ that promote well-being such as biodiversity and the natural environment. These ‘intangible contributions’ are believed to be the most efficient means for humans to engage with nature.
Studies that measured exposure to nature typically focused on green spaces and forests. However, more and more research is being conducted that explores the therapeutic effects of spending time in blue space – places with river or ocean views. As more studies are conducted, more evidence will be available that can help policymakers and the public better harness nature’s healing powers.