October 13, 2021

Nature and Mental Health

Nature and Mental Health

Can spending time in nature improve our mental health? A recent study revealed that college students who spent time in nature on a given day experienced improvements in well-being over a two week period.* These students who were experiencing nature more than their peers experienced more feelings of awe , amazement, surprise, and even transcendence. Taking time to experience just a few minutes of nature every day can have an impact on your mental health through increasing happiness, gratitude, and connection. Take a stroll around the block, step outside to watch the sunset, or take the scenic route on the way home from work to give yourself an extra dose of nature. Even if it’s something small that you can add to your work day, it can make a huge difference. It may just mean taking your lunch break outside (if the weather permits).

Using Mindfulness in Nature 

Because nature can provide such amazing benefits to our mental health, it's important to drop into a mindful inner space when taking time outside. Using these strategies will increase the benefits you receive from getting outside. Mindfulness will encourage the feeling of gratitude and interconnectedness. Here are a couple of mindfulness exercises to help you connect with the natural world.

  1. Simply walk and notice.

Noticing what’s around you is an easy way to practice mindfulness. Stop to appreciate a bright flower that you notice. Look at the different textures on the tree bark.  Listen to the birds sing in the trees. Feel what it feels like to be in your body as you’re outside. Be where you are, fully. 

  1. Sit and notice. 

This mindfulness exercise is slower and takes a bit more time. It involves watching an event. You could watch a cloud until it passes overhead. Observe a bee pollinating the flowers in a garden. Watch the sun completely set. Allow your inner space to settle as you rest and simply observe. This can evoke a more meditative state and help you ground yourself in the present moment.

It can be difficult to create new habits, so it's important that getting outside is enjoyable for you. The ideas below are great ways to incorporate nature into your day-to-day life. Bonus points if you combine a mindfulness exercise with one of these activities. Mindfully coming back to your breath as you practice the following exercises can help.

  • Bring your fitness outdoors. If the weather permits, take your workout outdoors! Trade in dumbbells for body weight exercises in a park. Grab a blanket and stretch in a grassy space.
  • Sip your morning coffee or tea outside. Even if you’re on the go in the morning, see if you can take a few minutes to sit, stand, or walk around with your morning sips.
  • Take pictures while you walk outside. A photography session will encourage you to focus on specific points of interest around you.
  • Use the outdoors to connect with your loved ones. Grab a friend, a coworker, or family and make a date out of it. Take a stroll and walk around the block, find a new coffee shop with outdoor seating, or explore a park with a friend. 

*Anderson CL, Monroy M, Keltner D. Awe in nature heals: Evidence from military veterans, at-risk youth, and college students. Emotion. 2018 Dec;18(8):1195-1202