How does nature affect mental health? When clients at Awakenings Treatment Center recover from mental health and substance abuse problems, they find spending time in nature to be incredibly rewarding. Research shows that the environment plays a significant role in increasing or decreasing stress. While busy settings with lots of people can increase stress, natural environments with trees and greenery reduce stress and increase pleasant feelings.
Whether this is your first time in treatment or subsequent time in treatment, be sure that nature is part of your recovery plan. Below you’ll find more information about nature and how it impacts your mental health and well-being.
Nature Heals the Brain and Body
Recovering from a mental illness and/or substance use disorder takes a lot of work. It’s an ongoing process and not a single event that happens overnight. Therefore, you need as many tools as possible to help you succeed in your recovery. Nature should be one of them.
A number of studies have been done on the relationship between nature and mental health. While it’s not exactly clear why the outdoors have such a positive boost on the mood, it's apparent that spending time in nature reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.
In one 2015 study, researchers looked at the brain activity of participants after they walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting or an urban setting. They found that people who walked in the natural setting had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex. When people are depressed, this is the part of the brain that malfunctions, causing negative thoughts.
It’s also possible that walking in nature stimulates the senses and has calming effects. For instance, relaxing nature sounds are known to lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, calming the body's fight-or-flight response. Additionally, seeing the trees, wildlife, flowers, etc. distracts you from your problems.
Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
Here is a list of benefits to expect when spending time outdoors:
- Improve creativity and problem-solving skills
- Reduce risk for depression and anxiety
- Mitigate stress for people of all ages
- Maintain a healthy heart
- Boost mood and self-esteem
- Gain a fresh perspective
How to Bring More Nature Into Your Life
Walking or being active outdoors are the best ways to immerse yourself in nature. But there are other ways, too. If you can’t make it outdoors, bring natural elements indoors! For example, you can listen to soothing nature sounds, look at pictures of nature, increase natural lighting, or buy a few plants.
When the weather cooperates, get outdoors when you can. It could be something as simple as meditating in a park or going fishing in the early morning. As long as you’re surrounded by a natural environment, you can reap the benefits of nature. Furthermore, you don’t have to be alone. Walking with a friend or bicycling with a group improves mental health and well-being, too.
Awakenings Treatment Center is an outpatient treatment center that works with individuals who have mental health, substance abuse, and/or eating disorders. We encourage complete healing of the mind, body, and spirit using both science-based and alternative treatments.