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Nature and Mental Health

Written by Brittany Breton, MSW Intern & Magnolia Heaton, LCSW, SRMT Edited by Magnolia Heaton

With all of the commotion in our day-to-day lives, it can be difficult to find some way to help slow things down. Spending time in nature can help us with that! Spending time in nature has many different benefits. At its very core, here are some benefit bullet points:

  • Red light (emitted from the sun at dusk and dawn) helps to regulate our circadian rhythms and helps our lymphatic system more effectively release toxins from the body.

  • Sunlight, in general, upon touching our skin, helps us receive and activate consumable levels of vitamin D, which supports -overall bone health by helping the body efficiently use calcium -repairing our instestinal barrier [so that we don't have leaky gut] -supporting a healthy microbiome - supports healthy immune response

  • Fresh air helps us take in more oxygen

  • Dirt/soil help us to ground, when we place our bare feet upon it because it releases negative ions from the body. Research shows 10-30 minutes a day of this grounding practice helps to significantly reduce anxiety and depression symptoms

  • Plants have a positive effect on us. Research has shown being outside with plants has a positive effect on our mood (reducing depression and reducing stress levels)

  • Mountains, in shamanism, have a medicinal effect. Gazing at mountains and spending time at the base of mountains or within/among/on mountains support us feeling grounded, determined, and stable

  • Water, in shamanism, helps us connect with our emotions and helps energetically balance our emotions

  • Walking helps support lymphatic draining, healthy joints, digestion, and bilateral stimulation

  • Animals, in shamanism, help us connect to different archetypes and personality traits, which strengthen us in areas when we need it most (think spirit animals)

All that aside, nature provides us with opportunities to be more mindful about our environment and our inner selves. Being in nature can also help us connect with our spiritual selves and reflect on our place in the natural world.

As human beings, we are very much a part of nature. We are meant to be connected with the natural world around us. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can create a positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. Spending time outside has been shown to help alleviate symptoms related to hypertension, cardiac disease, chronic pain, depression, attention disorders, mood disorders, and anxiety.

In addition, spending time in the sun (especially in the morning) has been found to significantly help lower stress hormone levels. Spending time outside has also been shown to boost our immune systems, support our energy levels, enhance our respiratory functioning, and increase our overall productivity in our personal and professional lives. Being in nature has been found to help promote creativity, imagination, memory retention and recall, and impulse control.

So what kind of interactions with nature can help support our wellbeing? Almost any type of interaction in nature! Whether it be taking a walk, going to sit on a park bench, having a picnic, spending time in the garden, playing outdoor sports, reading, playing with pets outside, swimming in a pool, reading next to a window, or just about anything else you can imagine yourself doing outside.

If you’re not used to spending time outside, take things slowly! Start with dedicating just 5-10 minutes a day, or every couple of days, to being outdoors. Choose whatever outdoor activity calls to you- whether it be just sitting outside, or being active! Whatever will help you actually be able to get outside is the best thing to do. After getting used to spending time outdoors, you can slowly increase the amount of time you spend outside. Try working your way up to spending at least 120 minutes outdoors each week, spread across at least three days in the week. Keep in mind that the more time you spend outside, and the more frequently you are outside, the more significant of an impact you will feel!

Lastly- don’t forget to wear sunscreen! Protecting your body also helps to protect your mind :)

Much Love,

Brittany and Magnolia <3 Bratman, G. N., Anderson, C. B., Berman, M. G., Cochran, B., de Vries, S., Flanders, J., Folke, C., Frumkin, H., Gross, J. J., Hartig, T., Kahn, P. H., Jr, Kuo, M., Lawler, J. J., Levin, P. S., Lindahl, T., Meyer-Lindenberg, A., Mitchell, R., Ouyang, Z., Roe, J., Scarlett, L., … Daily, G. C. (2019). Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science Advances, 5(7), eaax0903.

Chowdhury, M. R. & Madeson, M. (2019). The positive effects of nature on your mental wellbeing. Positive Psychology.

Tambyah, R., Olcoń, K., Allan, J., Destry, P., & Astell-Burt, T. (2022). Mental health clinicians' perceptions of nature-based interventions within community mental health services: evidence from Australia. BMC Health Services Research, 22(1), 841.

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