How Nature Helps Mental Health

How Nature Helps Mental Health

As the Summer has drawn to an end and we are in the prime of Fall in our part of the world, it’s important to note that the changing of this season can also bring about changes in our mood. Daylight hours start to decrease slowly but surely, the air outside becomes noticeably cooler, and families with children head back to school – and more structured and routine days.

With this, however, we can also look forward to enjoying some of the most pleasant weather to enjoy the outdoors and be next to nature at this time of year. With the autumn leaves starting to change color and the still-warm sunshine glinting through their rustic splendor, it is also one of the most beautiful times.

In the last couple of years, many of us found ourselves outdoors much…much more. Under the restrictions of a global pandemic, we spent more of our time doing what was still left for us to do: Walking, hiking, biking, and being outside. If you spent more time outdoors in the last couple of years, what did you notice? What impact did that have on your emotional and mental health?

Although restrictions have thankfully lifted, and most have us were able to enjoy a full summer of activity this year, research shows that our collective mental health understandably continues to struggle. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the U.S. are dealing with Anxiety. With everything going on in the world, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by stress and deflated moods.

Onevery simple and inexpensive strategy for coping is closer — and easier — than you think. Being outside and interacting with nature can be a marvelous asset to our overall well-being. In fact, just looking at trees, grass, water, earth, and sky can help us feel calm and more at ease.

Spending Time Outdoors Helps Our Physical Well-Being:

Although some mental health conditions are complex and their underlying causes are unique to each individual, one of the worst courses of action for those struggling with depression, stress, and anxiety is to stay cooped up in their home, which is unfortunately what many people feel a strong urge to do when emotionally unwell. A walk in the sunshine isn’t a miracle cure, but many people find that outdoor activity is a great way to feel more present, free their mind of intrusive thoughts, and incorporate mindful exercise into their daily lives.

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Nature Stimulates the Mind as Well:

There are direct mental benefits to outdoor activity, too. Outdoor exercise and activity are similar to meditation and yoga in their ability to promote more awareness of – and increased connection – to the Self. When we immerse ourselves in an environment that is much bigger than ourselves, it is easier to lessen the ego and live more in the ‘Now.’ Those who spend more time outdoors

Also tend to experience a “carryover effect” of natural healthiness, which can extend to other areas of their life (e.g. eating more wholesome foods, ensuring a good night’s rest, etc.).

Outdoor Activities are Social:

Spending time outdoors – or any time outside of our own homes – allows us to be near people. Increased social interactions are stimulating for the mind and allow us to fulfill deeply-rooted needs to connect to others. Pet owners, in particular, report feeling energized by meeting other pet owners (e.g. dog walkers) on their daily rounds.

The next time you go for a walk, look up and smile when you see people! Say hello. Strike up a conversation even. Most find this to be a relaxing and enjoyable – yet often overlooked – simple pleasure in life. When you spend time outside, you often connect with other like-minded people. Social interaction can not only make us feel better, but it again occupies time that might otherwise be spent on less healthy activities.

Nature Is a Great Outlet for Connecting with Our Pets:

Pets, in general, provide comfort, a sense of purpose, and responsibility, but often with work and other demands, we can neglect them. This is especially true for pets with high physical and outdoor needs, like dogs. The outdoors provides countless opportunities for people to reconnect with the furrier members of their family.

Nature is a Natural Learning Base for Children!

There is a LOT that you can talk about, ponder, and learn about while you’re outside and immersed in nature. Children are naturally curious and inquisitive. Being outdoor can promote the most interesting questions from them, from how grass is green to when do leaves fall and why? Kids are often especially interested in patterns the sky (creating shapes and images out of clouds, changing weather patterns, etc.), which can promote their interest in the natural

world around us and their appreciation of taking care of our environment. Take the kids outside, and you both can boost your own knowledge too as parents. You may even find you have a young meteorologist in the family!

Set Realistic Goals to Get Closer to Nature:

If you feel you’re not spending enough time in the fresh air, the good news is it’s never too late to start! Start building a daily walk habit. Focus on the process and the enjoyment of it rather than any outcome or ultimate goal. That way, it’s easier to maintain achievable daily expectations.

Spending time outside and enjoying our natural environment can play a strong supportive role in mental health, wellness, and even recovery. Nature can inspire us, provide outlets for physical activity, connects us with other people — who can provide much-needed personal support — and it also provides a limitless arena for meaningful interactions with our children and pets.

Many mental health professionals are adding nature therapies to their patients’ regimens thanks to the potential benefits.

At NKS Therapy, we offer secure online therapy via video or telephone. You can even have your session outdoors in a quiet and private setting if you choose, giving you the opportunity to maximize the therapeutic benefits of being close to nature while you are having your session.

In addition to providing a calming and mindful space for talk therapy, being outdoors and more aware of your surroundings can help minimize negative thinking and aid in sharpening cognitive skills.

However, you choose to engage with the outdoors, make it fit for you and your lifestyle. Build some tree-adjacent time into your daily routine and discover for yourself how nature helps our mental health.

NKS Therapy specializes in mental healthcare for individuals, couples, teens and families. We provide online therapy, in-person therapy, virtual counselling, and in-person counselling to support your emotional health and personal development. Call or book online to Speak to Therapist for FREE.(416) 745-4745

Written by: Jesse Clark

Edited by: Natasha Sharma

Photo Credit: Pexels

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