During the pandemic, everyone seemed to realize the importance of getting outside and enjoying the fresh air. Think about how much lighter you feel after taking your dog for a walk. Or how energized your mind is after a hike in the woods. Or even consider the boost you get from a warm, sunshine-filled day. It should be no secret how nature helps our mental health.
Let’s explore just a few of the ways nature and mental health are connected.
Nature Helps Slow Down the Mind
Between school, work, family life, and endless doom-scrolling on social media, our brains are busier than ever before. Getting out into nature, whether you’re hiking or enjoying the lakeside view, can help you calm your brain.
A study published in SAGE Journals in 2019 showed that exposure to natural environments helped improve memory, attention span, and our ability to adapt. When we live in cities and drive everywhere we need to go, we experience less and less nature. Instead, we absorb the stress of traffic jams, awkward run-ins with our neighbors, and harsh office lighting.
By slipping our phones into our pocket and trekking outside, we can slow ourselves down. Don’t feel like you have to drive to a national park and camp out for a few days. A simple walk around the block, listening to the birds chirping, or exploring a local park can do the trick.
(Keep reading to discover our #1 suggestion for experiencing the benefits of nature on mental health.)
Nature Increases Happiness
Beyond the cognitive benefits we mentioned in the previous section, nature can also benefit your emotional wellness. Let’s start with the positive emotions, like happiness.
A Psychology Today article titled “Does Nature Make Us Happy?” details a study that looked into “nature relatedness” and how we emotionally connect to the natural world. The study found that our relationship with nature was highly significant in our level of happiness. It also found a correlation between nature and its role in maintaining positive mental health.
So if you’re feeling down, take a few minutes to tend to your garden, look for wildlife playing in your backyard, or walk around a local park. Engage all of your senses to see what’s happening around you, hear the wind rustling, and smell the blooming flowers or pending rain. Intentionally using the senses helps us to get out of our brains and unstuck from a negative dialogue in our minds.
Nature Reduces Stress
Now on to the negative emotions… And no, we’re not going to say that enjoying nature will make you cranky and unpleasant to be around. Instead, nature can help reduce emotions like stress and anger.
Walking on local trails and playing in parks can help lower your heart rate, reduce muscle tension, and improve your physical health. These factors can help lower stress and positively impact your thoughts and feelings. A study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that even “short-term visits to urban nature areas [including urban parks and woodlands] have positive effects on stress relief.” And, on the other hand, spending time in city centers decreases our positive feelings.
When we are stressed out, it can be difficult to find the time and energy to head outside. Yet you’ve probably experienced the positive effects of the outdoors before. Why not use that memory to motivate you to explore nature once again?
Have you tried a Mindfulness Walk?
When it comes to nature in Stark County, Stark Parks does an incredible job of preserving our green spaces and providing ways to better connect with the natural environment around us. That’s why StarkMHAR teamed up with Stark Parks to create the Mindfulness Walk. Trying out this trail is our biggest tip for experiencing the benefits of nature on mental health.
This trail features 10 stations throughout its 1-mile loop, similar to an exercise trail. However, instead of focusing on the physical body, this trail engages your mind. The 10 stations feature three prompts each, along with a question to ask yourself, helping you focus on your mental health and engaging your senses.
The trail activates your ability to slow down and notice not only the world around you, but also the energy within you. With our hyperawareness of social media and digital communication, we can get wrapped up in thinking we know what’s happening to and around us. However, unless we really take the time to check in, we won’t actually know. The trail is one more tool you can add to your self-care toolbox.
The Mindfulness Walk combines aspects of physical and mental health to help participants with their overall health. In fact, Stark Parks is hosting a few events this spring to boost the benefits even more. They’ll be hosting programs featuring journaling, yoga, and candle making at Petros Lake Park—where the Mindfulness Walk begins. Keep an eye on their event calendar for details.
If you’re looking for even more resources on mental health, visit StarkHelpCentral.com. We provide a variety of information, from local organizations that can assist you to resources on specific mental health challenges.