Close your laptop and follow the footpath into a canopy of trees, where swirls of fresh air possess subtle healing powers. If you’re looking for a creative reset, a dose of relaxation, or hoping to trade chaos for calm, head to your nearest outdoor space—away from the hums of traffic and the whispers of skyscrapers, and let your body and mind sink into the natural surroundings. Several studies declare a positive relationship between spending time outdoors and your mental health. Not convinced? Read on to find how immersing in nature can benefit your mental health!
Ease anxiety and stress
Let’s start with the natural power that could benefit almost all of us: being outside can help to ease anxiety and stress. One study even looked at how hospital patients with windows looking into nature experienced less stress and pain than ones without a window. Apparently, nature images may play a role in lowering diastolic blood pressure! On top of that, exploring or resting in nature can reduce cortisol and adrenaline—two things related to stress (unless you’re jumping off an airplane or have a freaky wildlife encounter, of course). So if hospital patients can recover faster from merely looking at a green space from inside, can you imagine what nature can do when you spend hours meandering trails, forest bathing, or relaxing by a body of water? It’s crazy to think about!
Boost Creativity and Focus
With the swish of branches, trees can shower your brain with the magical ability to concoct unique ideas or stay on track with your current task. Sure, a glass of wine may be your go-to trick for a creative, focused boost (guilty!), but why not try the natural route? One study found that even seconds of green time can boost a sleepy mind. Australian researchers had students participate in a super boring task involving pressing computer keys. The results showed that students who glanced at a flower, green roof for just 40 seconds partway through the experiment performed better than those who paused to stare at a concrete roof.
When it comes to working online and remotely, I find that my attention span and creative thinking dip by the time Friday rolls around (or if I spend a weekend indoors). Still, when I go for a hike, camping, or do something outside on the weekend, the ideas come rolling when I sit down to work come Monday. Even stopping to go for a run or walk by the river midday helps to shift my focus! So, if you’re seeking a creative boost or find yourself in a brain rut, head to your nearest green space for an internal pick-me-up.
Improve the immune system
The immune system may not fall under ‘mental health,’ but it can be debilitating constantly feeling sick, tired, stomach ache-y, etc. It’s no secret that Vitamin D boosts the immune system, your blood, your bones and helps your body take in more minerals, like calcium! You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s great, but what if I live in a place that gets super dark, super fast in winter or where it rains almost 24/7?” And we hear you!
Thankfully, just being around plants can help as they release something called “phytoncides.” One study points out that phytoncides are “antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees,” so basically, they hold some magical, helpful immune healing power. This same study examined how a forest bathing (“Shinrinyoku” in Japanese) trip benefitted the immune system. The findings shared that the trip increased NK activity and cells, which can destroy tumour cells and infected cells. So being around plants and trees can work wonders for your immunity—which may, in turn, elevate your mental health as well. Who likes to feel “blah” all the time? Not me!
Another way the outdoors can benefit your mental health? Spending just a short amount of time outside can boost your self-esteem! One article, backed by a scientific study, discusses how even five minutes of green space time can help you feel better about yourself, such as a short stroll or gardening session. The study looked at 1252 people of all ages and found that people who currently have mental illness and young people reaped the most benefits from just a few minutes in a green space. However, overall, everyone benefited. Spending time by a body of water proved to be most effective! Another study on body image found that they developed a greater love for their bodies after exploring the outdoors, especially since moving outside gives you a chance to appreciate the things your body can do over how it looks.
These are just some of the ways that the outdoors can benefit your mental health—and guess what? You don’t need to find an epic spot to revel in the positive effects. Head to a city park or your backyard garden. Of course, it’s always fun and stimulating to explore somewhere new, but if you need a quick mindset shift, a nearby green space may do the trick!