Can The Great Outdoors Really Relieve Stress and Anxiety?

As the world becomes more developed and our lives become increasingly busy, our time spent outdoors can increasingly dwindle. Between the demands of work, and time spent at home in front of screens, it can be challenging to carve out time to venture outside. And if we live in a major city, the natural world may also not be quite on our doorstep. 

But if our physical, emotional or mental health is in any way compromised, it is crucial that we make the effort to get back to nature. Just think of how important it became to all of us during the lockdown periods of the covid pandemic. Many people reported feeling buoyed mentally during this period just by venturing out daily to go for a walk or spend time in a local park. 

The Power of Nature

Studies have shown that time spent in nature is indeed not just a lovely pastime, but a powerful tool that can:

  • Elevate mood
  • Boost feelings of happiness
  • Combat depression
  • Provide inspiration
  • Lead to positive social interaction 
  • Improve short term memory and problem-solving skills
  • Improve fitness levels 
  • Energise the mind and body
  • Provide a feeling of connection and being grounded
  • Relieve stress and anxiety

But How Does It Really Work?

Nerves

In our day to day lives we are assaulted by technology, traffic lights, television, electronic billboards and smart phones. They rush our senses and keep us on high alert. Whereas nature’s wonders, like an ancient tree, a particularly beautiful butterfly or a babbling stream gently capture our brain’s attention. Because of this, our nerves are calmed through the act of mindfulness. 

Stress

Stress is often the result of, or may lead to, racing thoughts. When we’re in a state of stress we may obsess over the details of an argument we’ve had with a loved one, or the details of a looming deadline at work. So, time spent in nature listening to birdsong or hugging a tree puts the brakes on this mental hamster wheel, because our attention is drawn to beauty and our mind is filled with awe instead. According to Healthline, “research suggests that when you’re exposed to stress, the sounds of nature may help your nervous system recover faster than sounds of traffic and other common city noises.”

Connection

Studies have made a link between our level of connectedness to nature and our emotional wellbeing. Feeling connected to nature can help us to feel grounded and self-aware. It can inspire feelings of belonging and help us to find deep meaning in life. Caring for our natural world, like planting trees with a conservation group, can also lead to meaningful and positive social interaction. According to The Mental Health Foundation, “Research shows that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile.”

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine hormone, because our bodies produce it naturally when we are exposed to sunlight. Spending time in the great outdoors, with 20-30 minutes of exposure to sunlight without sunscreen can increase our levels of vitamin D. This hormone boosts our mood, improves brain function and mental alertness and helps lower blood pressure, among many other benefits.

So, What Does Getting Back to Nature Really Mean?

There are many ways to visit, notice and connect with nature in order to combat stress and anxiety and improve our overall wellbeing. And the more we do it, the better we will feel. 

“Nature” can mean a green space or park, forest or woodlands, rivers, wetlands, beaches and creeks, or a backyard garden. And time spent in nature can be as simple as stopping to admire the art of a spider web or listening to the humming of bees.

Exercise – Why not trade some time spent on the couch or even in the gym for a hike in the mountains, a beach-side yoga session, or a bike ride through a national park. According to McMaster University, “when performed regularly, exercising in nature can reduce the risk of mental health problems by up to 50%.”

Forest Bathing – The idea of “Forest Bathing” originated in Japan in the 1980s. To forest bathe, you can wander through the woods, or simply stand anywhere in nature and engage deeply with what you hear, smell, touch and see, for as long as you want.

Ecotherapy – Ecotherapy, otherwise known as greencare, green therapy or horticultural therapy, focuses on a group of people working together in nature on a shared activity or task. It is sometimes lead by a therapist and can take place in parks, gardens, farms, or woodlands. It can include conservation projects, gardening, farming, preparing and sharing meals or adventure hiking and camping. The benefits of this type of outdoor therapy include reduced stress and anxiety, and the opportunity for positive social interaction and connectedness. 

Some More Ideas to Connect with Nature for Improved Wellbeing:

  • Volunteer for Clean Up Australia Day
  • Join a local gardening club
  • Get involved in a community vegie garden
  • Meditate at the beach at sunset
  • Go camping with friends or family
  • Try a Saturday morning Park Run in your local area
Author picture
Written by
Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

Author picture
Written by
Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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