6 Mental Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
The sounds of birds singing, the feel of sand beneath your toes, the smell of freshly bloomed lilacs — are you calmer already? Humans have an innate desire to connect with nature. It’s where many feel their best and most relaxed. That’s why spas play nature soundscapes and scented products come in a wealth of natural aromas.
However, no mental recreation or factory fabrication can replace the mental health benefits of spending time in nature for real. The magnitude and wonder of the natural world are awe-inspiring and a mood booster. It provides opportunities to get away from distractions and re-center yourself. So get some sunshine on your skin and reap these healing rewards.
Nature and Mental Health
1. Fewer Symptoms of Depression
Spending as little as 10 minutes outside in nature can help fight symptoms of depression. The vitamin D from soaking up the sunshine is partially to thank. Plus, doesn’t the warm sun on your skin make you want to smile?
Being outside also encourages natural physical activity like walking or playing with your dog. This movement boosts your serotonin levels, which fights depression at the brain level. Consistent activity — especially outdoors — can be a significant factor in treating mental health problems.
2. More Relaxation
Nature has a way of slowing you down and helping you to be present in the moment. Step away from technology and the hustle and bustle of daily life and all your worries seem a little less significant as you revel in the beauty of nature. So, take a walk, sit outside with a cup of coffee or lounge by the ocean — bathe your senses in the outdoors and enjoy the calming benefits.
3. Improved Memory and Cognition
Spending time in nature may actually make you smarter. According to researchers, natural settings improve memory and cognition, while urban environments decrease them. The study asked participants to repeat a set of numbers backward, testing their working memory. Those who were outside in nature consistently performed better than their urban counterparts.
Next time you need to learn something new, try practicing or reading material in your backyard rather than on your couch.
4. Better Sleep
Sleep quality correlates with almost every mental health condition. Improving sleep patterns can reverse many adverse effects, like problems with mood and stress levels. Fresh air, sunshine and healthy movement can help prepare your body for a good night’s sleep and restore your natural circadian rhythms.
5. Enhanced Creativity
Stimuli constantly overload people everywhere — from loud sounds to computer screens — which can stress your prefrontal cortex. When you’re focused on too many things, your natural creativity gets crowded out. Your ability to problem solve and create drastically declines.
However — according to a popular psychological concept — time spent in nature has a healing effect on people’s brains. After even a short while outside, you can let go of distractions, restore your ability to pay attention and think clearly.
This process and the relaxing and beautiful environment tend to boost creativity. Why do you think writers and artists love to go outside? It’s probably not a coincidence.
6. Social Connection
Next time you head outside, bring a loved one with you. Social relationships are a significant component of mental health, but people tend to spend “alone” time focused on their phones. Outdoor activities remove distractions and allow you to connect with friends and family on a much deeper level. Rather than co-existing, your relationships will begin to thrive.
Bring Nature to You
Even though the best way to reap the mental health benefits of spending time in nature is to get outside yourself, it’s not always possible. In that case, you should bring the outdoors to you.
Fill your home with real plants to freshen your air. Open your blinds to let in maximum sunlight. Listen to nature soundscapes — like ocean or forest sounds — as you fall asleep at night. You won’t get the same benefits as spending daily time outside, but these measures will be an improvement.
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Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Daily, G. C. (2012). The impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health. Annals of the New York academy of sciences, 1249, 1, 118-136.
Cox, D. T., Shanahan, D. F., Hudson, H. L., Plummer, K. E., Siriwardena, G. M., Fuller, R. A., … Gaston, K. J. (2017). Doses of neighborhood nature: the benefits for mental health of living with nature. BioScience, 67, 2, 147-155.
Tillmann, S., Tobin, D., Avison, W., Gilliland, J. (2018). Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: A systematic review. J Epidemiol Community Health, 72, 10, 958-966.
Lackey, N. Q., Tysor, D. A., McNay, G. D., Joyner, L., Baker, K. H., Hodge, C. (2021). Mental health benefits of nature-based recreation: a systematic review. Annals of Leisure Research, 24, 3, 379-393.
Mind: How can nature benefit my mental health?
The Guardian: Studies on nature’s mental health benefits show ‘massive’ western bias
Mental Health.org: Nature, How connecting with nature benefits our mental health
Science.org: Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective