How Does Nature Affect Mental Health?

Can Nature and the Great Outdoors Really Support Mental Health?

How does nature affect mental health? Research shows that the environment plays a significant role in increasing or decreasing stress. Busy settings with lots of people can increase stress, while natural environments with trees and greenery reduce stress and increase pleasant feelings. 

Whether you have just entered a treatment program or have 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. 

Many studies have been done on the relationship between nature and mental health. We don’t know why the outdoors has such a positive boost on the mood, but 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 for Mental Health

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. 

Awakenings Treatment Center is an outpatient treatment center that works with individuals with 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.

Contact us today to learn more

About Shari Corbitt

Dr. Shari Corbitt is a distinguished clinical psychologist with an enduring commitment to enhancing the mental well-being of individuals and communities. Holding a Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D), she has amassed a wealth of experience and expertise, making her a trusted authority in the field of mental health. As a licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Corbitt has provided compassionate and evidence-based therapy to countless clients. Her areas of specialization range from cannabis-induced psychosis and mood disorders to anxiety, and chronic pain, as it relates to PTSD and trauma, as well as stress-related conditions. She is widely recognized for her empathetic approach, creating a safe and supportive space for clients to embark on their healing journeys. Dr. Corbitt founded Awakenings Treatment Center to provide cutting-edge treatment for individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders, as well as related emotional difficulties. Optimal wellness is the goal for every client. She lives in gratitude each day for her own recovery, which she enjoys one day at a time.