Go for a bushwalk and you may notice your mood start to lift. Take a walk down by the water and you’ll likely feel a sense of calmness come over you. Start gardening and you may find your brain fog begin to fade. Time and time again, research on the connection between nature and mental health comes to similar conclusions: exposure to the natural environment can heal, restore, and rebalance our wellbeing.
Even though it’s something we’ve all heard about, and something we’ve certainly all instinctively felt, the idea that getting outside can combat feelings of depression and anxiety is something we may not pay enough attention to in our rapidly urbanising and fast-paced society. So, for everyone who feels like they need a breather, here is a reminder on how simply stepping into nature can help.
Prescribing Nature for Stress & Depression
Humans thrive in the outdoors. It’s been found that just a few minutes a day outside can lower blood pressure, improve mood, contribute to better sleep, improve mental focus, and more. But taking it even further, there’s been research that tells us it can also relieve stress and combat depression – both major issues in today’s society.
Research from the University of East Anglia revealed that people who spend time in or live in greenspaces benefit from significant mental and physical health boosts (2018). After compiling hundreds of studies that involved over 200 million people, the researchers found that people living closer to nature had reduced diastolic blood pressure and heart rate. But most interestingly, they found that, exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol – a physiological marker of stress.
A previous study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that walking in nature yields may reduce risk of depression (2015). This study compared brain activity in people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area vs. people who walked for 90 minutes in a high-traffic urban setting. Researchers found that those in the natural setting had decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.
These studies, along with countless others, support what most of us may already assume – that spending time in nature really does have the power to boost mood. Because of this, instead of thinking of outdoor activities as just hobbies, we should be shifting our mindset to thinking of them as essential self-care practices.
Acceptance of Ecotherapy Across the World
Many cultures are already steps ahead in embracing nature as a natural remedy that can help boost and maintain mental health. These are some of our favourite lifestyles or practices from across the world that we can learn a thing or two from:
Japan is one country that already embraces their own form of ecotherapy, aimed at reducing stress and improving well: shinrin-yoku, which translates to forest bathing. Despite its name, no bathing is required, rather it simply means immersing yourself in nature. It is meant to be a peaceful wander through nature, where you use all five senses to reconnect with nature. Many Japanese researchers believe shinrin-yoku can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and release healing properties.
Norway, Denmark, & Sweden: friluftsliv
In Scandinavia, the people live by the concept of friluftsliv, which translates to’ open-air living.’ Whether it means walking to work, taking lunch breaks in the park, or meeting friends at a countryside cabin, they place a high value on getting outdoors in order to boost mental and physical health. Many workplaces even ingrain this lifestyle into the workweek by incentivising their employees to take breaks outside during work hours, or by offering flexible work hours so they can friluftsliv while the sun is up and work during the evening.
Finding Your Own Calm in Nature
You don’t have to go on a multi-day camping trip or hours-long bushwalk for nature to take its effect on your psyche. Luckily, just two hours spread out however you prefer over the week is all you need. Here are our top tips to finding your calm in nature:
Find your space
If you’re an avid bushwalker, fisher, surfer, or any other outdoor enthusiast, finding where you want to spend your time in nature could be a no brainer. For those who don’t regularly get outside already, you may need to work it into your schedule. Find a spot in the park to eat lunch, fancy up your neglected patio, or pick up a new outdoor hobby like gardening or meditating.
When it comes to being present in nature, do as the Japanese do while forest bathing: slow down and reflect while engaging your senses. If you decide to go for a bushwalk, look for wildlife, touch the trees or flowers, and smell the fresh air. If you’re on your porch, look for movement in the clouds, listen to the birds, and feel the breeze on your skin.
Bring It Home
Creating greenspaces at your home or in your office can extend the benefits you receive from actually going outdoors. Many people do so by picking up shells on the beach and bringing them inside as décor, buying plants to sit on your desk, or even just opening the curtains each day to allow natural light to come in.
Our Final Thoughts on Nature & Mental Health
At Bluey Merino, we’ve always been big advocates in surrounding yourself in nature as a way to balance your lifestyle and boost your mental health. We’re even making a big company change in the near future that reflects this belief that being closer to nature has too many benefits to ignore – stay tuned for our next announcement to find out what it’s all about.
While we work to provide high-quality outdoor clothing to motivate people to get outdoors, we also want to make sure that people can continue finding their peace in nature for lifetimes to come. We’re doing our part in this mission by committing ourselves to removing plastic from our garments, packaging and shipping materials as we aspire to be a Plastic-Free Outdoor & Urban Lifestyle Brand.
Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(28), 8567– 8572. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1510459112
University of East Anglia. (2018, July 6). It’s official — spending time outside is good for you. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 27, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180706102842.htm