I think most of us have had the experience of being outside, in nature, appreciating the scene before you – whether it’s forest, a lake, rolling hills… and experiencing a sense of calm. This is not just your imagination – being in nature calms your nervous system (Gladwell et al., 2012). Getting out in nature has been proven to have positive impacts on mental health, stress levels and self esteem (Cox et al., 2017). Studies have shown that being in nature impacts certain areas of the brain that helps to produce these effects (Harvard Health, 2021)
Make a Plan!
It’s clear that being in nature can be really beneficial to your mental health – this knowledge is power! Now that you know this, you can make a plan to get out in nature and reap the mental health benefits. To ensure you are getting enough exposure to nature to have a positive effect on your mental health, try to get out at least three times a week for 20-30 minutes (Harvard Health 2021). Being in an area with more vegetation and bird noises enhances the effects, and bonus points if you can be near water! (Barton and Pretty, 2010) But if spaces like this are inaccessible, simply try walking through a neighborhood with some leafy trees, and gardens and notice the calming effects.
Barton, J & Pretty, J. (2010) What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis, Environmental Science & Technology 44 (10), 3947-3955
Cox et al., (2017) Doses of Neighborhood Nature: The Benefits for Mental Health of Living with Nature, BioScience, 67(2): 147–155
Gladwell, V., Brown, D., Barton, J., Tarvainen, M., Kuoppa, P., Pretty, J., Suddaby, J. and Sandercock, G. (2012) The effects of views of nature on autonomic control, European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(9).
Harvard Health Publishing (2018, July) Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature. Harvard Health Men’s Watch
Clare Pentelow, MSW, RSW, is a social worker and psychotherapist in the Kitchener Waterloo area. She has over 10 years experience working in the mental health field.