Research shows that being in nature or green spaces can improve your psychological state by relieving stress and reducing anxiety, depression, fear, and anger. Exposure to nature contributes to our mental wellness – a pleasant state of mind and improved health by lowering heart rate and stress hormones.
You’ve likely heard the advice, ‘go out and get some fresh air.’ Frequently we hear this when we are feeling anxious, depressed, or even simply when we are feeling ill. This is a saying that seems to go hand-in-hand with any ‘down’ feeling in our lives. But, why do we so often associate being outdoors with feeling better?
Nature is our portal into a more peaceful mindset and calming atmosphere. This much is generally accepted by even experts in the field of psychology and mental wellness. This makes being out in nature a perfect remedy for anxiety or stress. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s talk about the research behind stress relief with nature and how you can use nature for your own happiness and meditation.
“Just being surrounded by bountiful nature, rejuvenates and inspires us.”
—E O Wilson
The Science behind Stress Relief with Nature.
Getting in touch with nature is something that many of us might feel is a cure to a whole host of emotional and spiritual ailments. The sounds of the leaves rustling each other, the scent of the fresh soil on the air, the feeling of the breeze on your skin… It all makes our spirits lift and gives a sense of calming and relaxation. The funny thing is, this is all scientifically proven.
Research shows that being in green spaces filled with life can actually make you feel better emotionally. This is backed by studies conducted to test the mental state of individuals in and out of ‘green’ spaces, as well as by bringing plant life into a home otherwise without it.
These studies have tested levels of stress hormones such as cortisol in patients in various environments surrounded by and removed from nature. The answer is pretty resounding–being around nature reduces stress hormones, which is a direct indicator that stress and anxiety are reduced when being around plants. But why is this?
Why is Nature Good for our Mental Health?
Why does nature bring peace and calm into our lives when we feel overworked mentally, physically, and spiritually? Well, stress relief with nature can be understood when we break down our understanding of our connection with nature.
“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” —Khalil Gibran
Our Physical Connection With Nature.
Humans are products of our environments. We have come from nature, but yet our modern lives have abandoned it. In our earliest days, we spent most of our time out and connected with nature. This was spent hunting, gathering, exercising, relaxing, etc. For most of our existence as a species, our lives have been balanced based on the natural elements around us.
Today, many of us have completely lost our connection with the natural world. We live in concrete homes, work in concrete buildings, and live our days glued to blue-light screens for work and for leisure. We are a people who have become removed from where we came.
Much like animals, when humans are removed from their natural habitat, they begin to experience changes. These changes are very rarely for the better in the long run. This is because we start to lose many beneficial aspects of a more natural life slowly over time.
Being out in nature helps us get many of the nutrients and mental stimulants we need to thrive. For example, vitamin D. Vitamin D is crucial to our overall well-being and health–from bone health to regulating sleep schedules. Vitamin D can be had by getting out into the sun and prompting our skin to produce vitamin D naturally.
In addition to vitamin D, being out in nature is exceptionally beneficial for our overall mental wellness. This is partly due to the fact that living our days in cramped spaces can lead to inhalation of low-quality air. Polluted or poor quality air can lead to high blood pressure, fatigue, low blood oxygen levels, and more. Being outside in the fresh air helps to regulate blood oxygen levels and reduce blood pressure–among other things.
So, as you can see, there are plenty of ways that our bodies are naturally improved by being outside and among the elements. We can help to bring fresh oxygen and vitamin D into our lives naturally by merely spending some time outdoors and in the wilderness. But, the benefits don’t just stop there…
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” —Rachel Carson
Our Spiritual Connection With Nature
Almost every culture of spirituality around the world has a deep connection with nature. Our attunement to Gaia and the world around us connects us to the earth, and the life that flows through it. Even the cosmos and the celestial bodies around us have a pull on how we feel and sail through our lives.
Faiths and creeds of all types make a special mention of how we as humans connect with nature on a spiritual level, from Hinduism to Buddhism and even Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Islam. They all make special mention of nature and the ways that we connect with it. So, it begs the question… Are they all on to something?
Human beings have always longed to be connected to our world and the universe around us. It is what has pushed us to explore our planet and even the stars beyond. We have used our relationships with animals to form strong bonds. We have used our understanding of the earth to grow food and nurture gardens. We all seem to find a certain level of peace and mental well being when it comes to the natural world around us.
While it may be impossible to quantify the spiritual aspect of nature, we can observe its effects on us. The same research that shows physical improvement in our well-being when around nature also indicates emotional and mental well being improves as well. When we take the time to ‘unplug’ and disconnect from modern stressors, we find ourselves feeling calmed and rejuvenated among the sights, sounds, and scents of the earth.
When we separate ourselves from our concrete jungles and digital playgrounds, we find a sense of purpose and connectivity that we may have felt was long lost. This is our spirits and hearts’ feeling reconnecting with mother nature and rejoining the spiritual chorus that we were initially born into as a species. It’s a beautiful thing to be surrounded by our most natural habitat with only our most basic needs.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. —John Burroughs.” —Rachel Carson
How to Relieve Stress and Anxiety With Nature?
All of this sounds pretty amazing, right? The idea that only getting out of the house and exploring the natural world around us can improve our physical and emotional well being is pretty impressive. But, is it really that simple? How can you actually make the most of it?
Well, in reality, it is that simple. Getting out and taking a jog or a walk through the forest or along the beach is all you really need to do to experience the long-term benefits. Only taking the time to remove yourself from the stresses of life and insert yourself into a more serene environment is really all it takes to get the ‘medicine’.
The best way to experience the impact of nature for our mental wellness is to simply unplug and tune out for a while. When you go outside, try to leave behind anything that can distract you from the natural wonders around you. Leave behind the work, the business of life, and even your mobile devices if you can help it (when it is OK to do so).
Try to focus on the feeling that you get when the fresh air gently caresses your skin. Embrace the way that the sounds of nature make you feel. Listen to the leaves as they rustle in the wind, along with the chirping of the birds and critters. Let your mind melt away as you absorb all of the sensory connections that nature makes with you and your mind, as well as your spirit.
This is the best way to experience the stress relief that nature can bring you. You will soon begin to notice that the anxiety, fear, stress, and sadness of the day is lessened over time the more you spend outside.
How Much Time Should We Spend Outdoors?
For many of us, taking the time to get out and take a walk is pretty difficult. With work, studies, family life, social life, etc. It can feel like you don’t have the time to be spending outside among the trees and creatures. But don’t worry, it doesn’t take much.
Ideally, you should aim to get at least 2 hours of outside time, along with nature, per week. This comes out to about 15-20 minutes per day. This can be done in the morning before you start your day, at night when you end your day, or even on a break during your day. It doesn’t take much for you to begin to feel like you are reestablishing a connection with mother earth from whence we all came. It will not be long before you start experiencing the effect of nature in your mental wellness.
Nature is the life-spring from which all life comes. The very definition of nature is the natural world that surrounds us. You don’t have to plan a weekend camping trip or a beach holiday to find it. Merely taking a walk around the block can do a world of good for your mental and physical well being.
So, don’t wait for the anxiety or stress to overwhelm you. Make nature a part of your day, every day, and feel the burdens of life simply melt away from you.