How the Environment Affects Your Mental Health: Why You Should Spend More Time in Nature

Many of us spend our workdays indoors under fluorescent lights with little to no contact with the natural world. As nice as it sounds to get some fresh air or take a walk after work, the thought of it can be exhausting, particularly when the couch is beckoning you home after a long day. But spending too much time indoors is not good for your health, and a growing stack of research has revealed the numerous benefits that being in nature has for your physical and mental well-being.

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How your environment affects your mental health

In our Western and modern world, many people spend most of their time indoors. On top of that, we live in a time where many of us spend half our lives in the digital world, scrolling, swiping, and chatting with people online.

In our increasingly busy lives where we are cooped inside all day and our heads are glued to or distracted by screens, it’s easy to go a long period of time without spending a quality amount of time in nature, much less without our phones.

The thing is, humans need to have contact with natural light in order to reduce stress and blood pressure and boost the immune system. We are also naturally more inclined to be in natural settings than in man-made habitats. Given this, it’s no wonder that we feel mentally and physically drained after working inside all day.

Our tendencies to stay indoors may be one of the reasons why there is an increase in depression, anxiety, and stress which are, sadly, increasingly common mental health disorders. Feeling overwhelmed, a sense of disorientation, and a lack of motivation may also be symptoms of spending too much time in an artificial environment.

Why you should spend more time in nature

The good news is that an increasing body of evidence has revealed that spending quality time in nature can positively impact and improve your mental well-being and physical health.

When taking a walk through forests or woodland areas, physiological signs of stress are reduced and negative feelings such as anxiety, anger, and depression are relieved. This has been well researched in a concept called “shinrin-yoku,” the Japanese term for forest-bathing, and involves walking through a woodland area while engaging all your senses. As well as being calming and grounding, this practice has been proven to boost the immune system, balance and improve heart conditions, and reduce bowel disorders.

Nature has been found to have significant healing properties and provide immunization against diseases. A study found that patients who underwent gall bladder surgery recovered much faster when they had a view of a green, leafy environment from their windows rather than a brick wall. Exposure to green spaces has also been revealed to reduce the risk of such illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, premature death, and high blood pressure. Furthermore, it wards off mental illnesses, with one study revealing that seeing or hearing birds nearby reduces the risk for depression and anxiety.

In addition to all of this, there are spiritual advantages to being outdoors. Spending time in nature rejuvenates your mind and provides space for reflection. It is naturally restorative as there is no pressure to strive or be anyone other than yourself. Your perspective on yourself and the world around you shifts when you acknowledge the beauty of the world and how inextricably interconnected we are to one another.

As beneficial as immersing yourself in a natural environment is, it should not replace professional health care if you are struggling with a mental health disorder. Trusted counseling platforms like www.betterhelp.com provide licensed therapists who are dedicated to helping you heal and grow.

Ways to spend more time in nature

Spending time in nature does not have to be complicated. You can reap its benefits by taking a walk in a woodland area near your home, sitting by a body of water, driving down to your local beach, having a picnic in the park, or spending time in your garden. You can also go on a long hike during the weekends, either by yourself or with friends. Regardless, a restorative place in nature is anywhere you feel most relaxed and calm. The more frequently you visit these spaces and dedicate time to being in nature, the better.

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However, if you are short on time, there is good news: even spending 5 minutes outside can boost your mood and looking out your window at a green space can lower your heart rate and make you feel instantly calmer. Take 10 minutes to go outside during your work break to soak up the sun—this alone can help your body generate vitamin D, boost your mood, and aid nutrient absorption. Better yet, exercise outside; studies have revealed that working out outdoors is linked to better health and improved mental well-being than exercising indoors.

While you do that, consider leaving your phone at home, in your car, or turned off. We all need a digital detox every now and again, and being in nature is a prime time to do it.

The takeaway

Humans are not meant to live detached from nature. The natural world has proven time and time again to have a restorative, healing, and calming effect on the mind, body, and soul. While it is no silver bullet when it comes to dealing with mental health issues, it is an excellent way to boost your physical and mental health and can intensify your overall happiness and well-being.

About Marie Miguel

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.
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