3 Strategies for Achieving the Mental Health Benefits of Nature
Spring in the Midwest brings with it warmer temperatures, longer and sunnier days, and budding plant life. With these changes comes the invitation to reconnect with nature and enjoy the many benefits it can bring to both your psychological and physical wellbeing.
While most states remain in lockdown at least through the end of this month, state governors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alike have encouraged Americans to continue to enjoy nature as long as they do it safely. The CDC has issued specific guidelines for safely enjoying nature.
Getting outside at all is likely to boost your mood, but there are several ways to optimize the mental health benefits of your time in nature.
Here are 3 ways to enjoy the mental health benefits of nature:
1. Practice present-moment awareness
Given the current state of the world, it is understandable that you might find yourself getting caught up in worry. Getting outside can offer a healthy shift in perspective. Have you ever looked up at the stars and felt a calming shift? Immersing yourself in nature helps to bring you back to the present moment, easing tension built up due to worries about the future or regrets from the past. To practice present-moment-awareness, bring your attention to the here-and-now. How are you feeling? What are the sensations in your body that let you know you’re feeling that way? How do these sensations evolve as you shift your attention to nature? This practice can help to improve mood, reduce stress, boost energy and inspire creativity.
2. Notice and appreciate the natural objects you encounter
Research has shown that in order to enjoy the mood-boosting benefits of the outdoors, it helps to pay attention. That is, the simple act of intentionally noticing the natural objects we encounter while in nature has been linked to increased levels of happiness and higher levels of connectedness, not just with nature but also with others. In other words, it really is worth stopping to smell the roses. Next time you go outside, take the time to really study several of the natural objects you encounter. Notice the color, the shape, the smell, the texture. If you walk the same route more than once, try noticing how quickly the different plants you encounter are growing. And again, notice how it makes you feel to be engaged with the natural world in this way.
3. Soak up the sun
This one is easy: get outside and let nature do the work for you. Vitamin D, which is produced when sunlight is absorbed through the skin, has been linked to reduced pain as well as improved mood and sleep. Just be careful not to overdo it – overexposure to the sun can be harmful to your skin.
Luckily, you can enjoy the benefits of sunlight even when your skin is not exposed to it; in fact, sunlight has been linked to increased levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps to improve mood among other benefits, even if it is being enjoyed from under a shady tree or even from inside your home. Just be careful not to look directly at the sun – this is harmful to your eyes. To optimize the mental health benefits of sunlight, try sitting outside or near a sunny window shortly after you wake up, and simply take a look around for at least 10 minutes. This practice helps to boost mood and promote increased energy levels throughout the day.
As the temperatures rise and flowers begin to bloom, don’t miss out on the many health benefits of getting outside. While enjoying the outdoors might boost your mood in the short-term, a more comprehensive approach to treatment will often be necessary for people who are suffering chronically. Meeting with a therapist can be an effective way to confront factors contributing to mood problems, anxiety, relationship problems and more.
If you are suffering, know that help is available from the safety of your own home. GLPG makes it easy to get started with online therapy. If you’d prefer to start online therapy in the wake of the pandemic but anticipate that you’d prefer to switch to in-office therapy at some point, you have the option of choosing a GLPG therapist located in your community.