Spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and well being. Whatever you call it – forest bathing, ecotherapy, mindfulness in nature, green time or the wilderness cure — humans evolved in the great outdoors, and your brain benefits from a journey back to nature.
Here is how you might feel if you have been holed up in your home (or in the big city) for too long, and how getting back to nature could soothe what ails you.
If you are feeling blue, try trading the cramped, gray city for some green, natural spaces. A stroll in the woods has been shown to help combat depression, and even just the view of the forest from a hospital room helps patients who are feeling down. Head for the hills if you need a boost to your mood.
The buzzing of people, cars zipping down the street and bright billboards flashing advertisements are all part of the urban environment. The constant stimulation puts stress on brains that evolved in more tranquil environments. Nature presents scenes that gently capture your attention instead of suddenly snatching it, calming your nerves instead of frazzling them.
You probably know that exercise is good for your state of mind. But did you know that working out in nature helps to reduce anxiety, among other benefits, even more than going to an indoor gym? Consider skipping the exercise bike and hit some trails to get the best mental bang for your buck.
If you dwell on your problems and just can’t stop, a walk through a meadow might put the brakes on the thought train circling through your head. Research shows that a 90-minute walk in nature lowers activity in the part of the brain linked to negative rumination. The same walk in an urban setting does not have the same effect.
Are you constantly multitasking at work as you switch between customers and phone calls, or click from spreadsheets to presentations? Even at home, you might face a combination of kids, chores and devices vying for your attention. Your prefrontal cortex can only take so much distraction before it needs a recharge. Luckily, time in nature has been shown to restore mental abilities like short term memory and processing 3D images based on drawings.
Changing the scenery is a great way to get the creative juices flowing, and nature offers stimuli that you won’t find while staring at a screen. In one example, spending four days in nature improved problem-solving skills by 50%. If you haven’t found a way to tackle that next big project at work, or an obstacle that is impeding your personal goals, try noodling on it in the great outdoors.
Time in nature can help with your personal relationships, too. Natural beauty results in more pro-social behaviors, like generosity and empathy. Perhaps that long talk you were planning with a significant other would go more smoothly while watching a sunset instead of staring at the wall. (And no, don’t have that convo over text!)
One of the most basic human needs is to feel that you belong and you are part of a larger tribe. But studies show that this concept goes beyond human relationships alone. Time in nature results in a sense of belonging to the wider world that is vital for mental health.