You’ve heard it since growing up, “Get outside, it’s good for you!” Even if you don’t classify yourself as an “outdoorsy” person, studies have shown that outdoor activity is highly beneficial for your physical health and emotional wellbeing. Certainly, going out in nature improves memory, creativity, and the ability to focus. Additional benefits of outdoor activity include “improved health outcomes related to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, respiratory issues, [and] migraines.” While going outside is good for your physical health, we often don’t talk about its benefits for your mental health. Spending time in nature is proven to help alleviate anxiety and keep depression at bay.
Studies have found that anxiety levels decrease in those who are exposed to nature. This is because time spent outside is said to lower the stress hormone, cortisol. In fact, according to a 2019 study, “Salivary cortisol levels significantly decreased when time was spent in nature with the greatest impact coming from spending 20 to 30 minutes outside.” This is all due to the green space that the outdoors offers. Spending time in such green space is said to abet a sense of calmness, along with lower heart rate and blood pressure.”
Mindfulness is often encouraged by therapists and clinical psychologists alike, and nature is one such way we can practice mindfulness. Imagine a team of ducks swimming in a stream, how their motion creates ripples while their feet hurriedly cycle underwater. Think about the wings of an eagle stretching in the sky, its majesty apparent as it skillfully and gracefully charts its course. Visualize the waving branches of a tree in the forest, and how the wind makes the leaves shake, the cacophony creating a symphony. Picture the rolling hills of the countryside and how perfectly imperfect every crevice is. All of these mental images can have a soothing effect on our consciousness.
Taking part in outdoor activities allows us to get outside ourselves. When we are “just being,” we offer ourselves an opportunity to be present in that moment. And in the present, we can catch our breath, relax our minds, and be mindful of the beautiful world around us. The more mindful you are of the present, the less anxious you are about the future. The more time you give your brain to enjoy the nature that’s in front of you, the less time you have to worry or have anxiety.
Vitamin D that our bodies derive from sunlight is an important nutrient that the human body craves. As mentioned in EatingWell, “Exposure to natural light stimulates the body’s production of vitamin D and serotonin, both of which play key roles in boosting moods. These are key reasons why even small amounts of time spent outside are associated with an increase[d] sense of overall well-being and a decrease in anxiety and depression.”
Going outside helps with depression in its ability to boost endorphins. If you’re exercising outside, even better. Lumino Health cites a study that compared two groups of participants: one group walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting, while the other group walked for 90 minutes in an urban environment. The study found that “those in nature reported lower levels of negative self-thought.” Negative self-talk directly contributes to depression. When your thoughts slowly turn from negative to positive, you’ll notice your mind “softens,” and your mood is lifted.
One study found that ecotherapy, a type of treatment that includes outdoor activities, specifically in nature, can help with depression. In addition, exposure to green space is said to slow ‘rumination,’ the process in which individuals with depression or anxiety may replay negative instances over and over, making the depression and anxiety worse.”
If you’re wondering how much time to spend outside, Lumino Health asserts, “research points to 120 minutes a week as the ideal minimum.” That’s two hours a week, and they don’t have to be consecutive. If you can’t afford to spare an hour after work outside, try breaking up that 120 minutes into bite-sized portions each week. Possibly going for a walk in the office parking lot over lunch, or just stepping outside for 15 minutes when you need a coffee break. It could be eating dinner on the patio, or sitting on the porch in the evenings. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for a hike over the weekend, explore a waterfall, or plant a garden. If you live in a more urban environment, take a day trip on a Saturday to the closest park near you. It doesn’t have to be strenuous or elaborate. Just walk out your front door and see where nature takes you.
There is a diverse array of holistic methods offered in the approach of mental health and substance abuse treatment. While sometimes necessary, not all treatment plans require prescribed medication. Supporting your body and mind naturally is sometimes all you need to manage mental health symptoms. Spending time outside is one of the best natural ways you can lower symptoms of anxiety and depression. At SokyaHealth, we specialize in holistic approaches that support your body and your mind. We believe that a healthy mindset can be supported through exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, meditation, and counseling. Our wide variety of services include nutrition and dietary counseling, wellness consulting, neuropsychological testing, psychotherapy, neurofeedback, and clinical counseling. Our facilities offer telemedicine, as well as in-person services in the Alaska, California, and Oregon regions. We provide direct access to physicians and clinicians via phone, telemedicine, or on-campus appointments. Call 866-932-1767 to schedule a health and wellness consultation today.