Nature gives us so much: a place to adventure, a place to unplug, a place to exercise and a place to find solace. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we also want to talk about another benefit nature brings us: healing.
Many of us may have loved nature from an early age, but some have come to the outdoors through the pandemic. The pandemic forced so many of us to stay indoors for most of our days, avoiding connection and solely finding it through online communities and sources. This time of scrolling heavily, utilizing technology and staying inside frequently led to many seeking time outside, sometimes for the first time and sometimes in greater amounts.
According to University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman, PhD, and his student Kathryn Schertz, "green spaces near schools promote cognitive development in children and green views near children’s homes promote self-control behaviors. Adults assigned to public housing units in neighborhoods with more green space showed better attentional functioning than those assigned to units with less access to natural environments. And experiments have found that being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control, while exposure to urban environments is linked to attention deficits (Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 28, No. 5, 2019)."
When our brains are feeling anxious, stressed and fogged, nature can help us to ground and clear our minds in healthy ways. The American Psychological Association shares that "the biophilia hypothesis argues that since our ancestors evolved in wild settings and relied on the environment for survival, we have an innate drive to connect with nature. The stress reduction hypothesis posits that spending time in nature triggers a physiological response that lowers stress levels. A third idea, attention restoration theory, holds that nature replenishes one’s cognitive resources, restoring the ability to concentrate and pay attention."
Seeking out nature has been soothing and peaceful for so many of us, alleviating feelings of depression, isolation and grief. Even nature sounds and bringing nature indoors (hello, houseplants!) can bring you the benefits of time spent outdoors. Sitting in a park, walking barefooted and touching the Earth are also ways to tap into the healing properties nature provides.
How much time are you spending outside? No matter if it is walking around your block, camping for a few days, fishing, climbing or gardening, it is all helpful. "Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful," says Dr. Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance.
Allowing ourselves to sit and feel the grass, watch the trees rustling, hear the birds singing, water flowing....it relaxes our minds and connects us to others. Takingcharge.csh shares that, "according to a series of field studies conducted by Kuo and Coley at the Human-Environment Research Lab, time spent in nature connects us to each other and the larger world. Another study at the University of Illinois suggests that residents in Chicago public housing who had trees and green space around their building reported knowing more people, having stronger feelings of unity with neighbors, being more concerned with helping and supporting each other, and having stronger feelings of belonging than tenants in buildings without trees."
This month, take some time to get out in nature and check in with how it is making you feel. Breathe in deeply and out deeply, focusing on the calming effects and impact the outdoors has on your mental, physical and emotional state. It's a perfect time to give a big thanks to Mother Nature for taking care of us in every way!