With 45% of people reporting that spending time outdoors in nature during lockdown helped them with their mental health, we think it's only fitting that this years theme for Mental Health Awareness week is nature.
Nature is not only known for its incredible beauty, but also for its ability to improve mental health and our overall wellbeing. Research by the Mental Health Foundation has shown that spending time in nature has been one of the most popular ways for people to help sustain their mental health during the pandemic.
It's almost like the world, during one of the most dark & unpredictable years, turned to nature to help themselves heal.
While it may sound simple, the idea of getting outside and letting yourself interact with nature can be extremely helpful for all mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety.
What really is 'nature'?
I suppose many people have a different ideal when they think of nature, but in order for it to be beneficial to your mental health, 'nature' is any environment in which you use your senses (eyes, ears, smell & touch) to experience the natural world. For example, taking yourself to the countryside, a forest, beach, lake, park or garden can be defined as nature. Anything that truly allows you to take nature in and appreciate the environment around you.
So what are the benefits nature can have on your benefit health?
Nature can help you emotionally
Just by being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature from indoors, can help reduce anger, fear and stress. In fact, exposure to nature makes you feel better emotionally while impacting your physical wellbeing, blood pressure levels, heart rate, muscle tension and even stress hormones.
Nature can help you cope with pain
Did you know we are genetically programmed to find nature engrossing? Whether it be trees, lakes or even plants, we are naturally absorbed by nature and as a result, can find it distracting from pain and discomfort.
Nature has the ability to change your mood
One of the most fascinating areas of research is how the impact of nature has on our general wellbeing. In one study carried out by Mind, it was found that 95% of people said their mood was improved after spending time outside. Their mood changed from a state of depression, stress and anxiety to a sense of calm, peace and balance.
Other studies also show that time spent in nature increased mood, wellbeing, vitality and meaningfulness. This is most probably because we as humans find nature so incredibly interesting. Nature has the ability to grab our attention, expose us to different elements and also show us the beauty we don't see in everyday life (time spent indoors). Therefore, we see nature as a 'digital' break from the working world which ultimately, impacts our mood massively.
This study shows that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing.
Nature helps us practice gratitude
Gratitude is often a popular practice people turn to when it comes mental health. Practicing gratitude daily (or even just a few days a week) not only improves your mood, but also increases positivity too. People who regularly express gratitude for the positive things in their life are shown to be happier overall, leading to lower rates of stress and depression.
When it comes to nature, environmental psychologists have argued that by staying close to nature, we feel more grateful and appreciative of what it has to offer us (a sense of calmness, beauty, fresh air, an escapism, de-stresser).
Nature allows us to have free screen time
Last but not least (and probably the most important when it comes to mental health), nature allows us to have some very much needed time away from our screens. Nature deprivation (yup, it's a thing), is a lack of time spent in the natural world, largely due to hours spent in front of a computer screen, mobile phone or TV.
Sadly, for most of us, if we're not working, then we're on our phones or watching TV, mostly as a way to 'de-stress' after a day of work. But actually, did you know technology has been associated with low mood, anxiety and depression?
In a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, it was found that time spent in front of a screen (independent of physical activity) was associated with a higher risk of death.
By staying close to nature and absorbing as much of it as we can, we can all reap the many benefits. Not just for our mental health, but for our physical health too.
It's clear from the simple evidence above that nature gives us the perspective for healthier living, the motivation to carry on, and the energy to keep looking after our mental health.
Take care of nature and it'll take care of you.