Why is Nature and Mental Health Awareness Connected?
Mental Health Awareness Week took a different approach this year with the theme being “nature”. A random connection between the two concepts — but perhaps not as odd as we think. Let’s explore why nature is central to our mental wellbeing and how we can spend more time in it.
The importance of nature
During the pandemic, many of us were stuck at home. We weren’t allowed to go outside, socialise, or exercise in public places — it was a complete shock to the system. Our lives became all work and no play; the lines blurred between boundaries. The main problem being: it felt like we were zoo animals stuck behind bars.
Studies have shown that there was a 13.5% rise in mental health problems due to social isolation and lockdown effects. Whilst there are many reasons that contributed to the prevalence of mental health issues, the lack of time spent in/access to nature was a huge factor.
Nature is a broad theme that covers everything from socialisation, the environment and human biology. It all boils down to what is natural. Obviously, socialising with friends face-to-face is natural, sitting or teaching in a classroom is natural — sitting at home all day in front of a screen is not natural.
4 ways nature improves mental health
There are many simple ways that nature contributes to our general wellbeing, and it’s not difficult to come by. Nature is all around us. Most of the time we’re so mindless and stuck in our own thoughts that we lose touch with Mother Nature. Here are 4 simple ways you can connect with nature:
Going for a walk outside
It probably comes as no shock to know that everyone is telling the truth about the benefits of walking outside. Not only is it essential for your physical wellbeing, but connecting with the natural world also supports your mental wellbeing.
The actual act of walking (or any physical activity for that matter) releases endorphins, a feel-good chemical that acts as a pain-reliever and boosts levels of happiness. Many studies have found that exercise improves mood, especially in relation to depression and anxiety.
Another benefit of the great outdoors is the sun, which releases Vitamin D. Lack of Vitamin D is also associated with high rates of depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Obviously during COVID and the dark winter months, we were not getting enough sunlight. So going outside is crucial for your wellbeing. Seems your parents were right — surprise, surprise!
When you’re surrounded by beautiful scenery, you’ll notice yourself feeling grateful. Positive Psychologists have found that giving thanks and expressing gratitude daily is a proven exercise that improves mental wellbeing, particularly for depression.
Truthfully we are incredibly lucky to be around nature and be allowed to explore the outside world. There are so many natural wonders that we take for granted, which are vital for our mental wellbeing.
Being around the colour green
Here’s a fun fact for you: the colour green is known to have anti-anxiety properties and also calms you down. Statistics show that 45% of people reported that being in green spaces was essential to their mental health and wellness.
Have you noticed that medical symbols and hospital walls are usually painted green?
Colour psychology suggests that the colour green relaxes the eyes as well as the body. Studies have shown that green also reduces stress around and calms down muscles, promoting a more rapid healing process.
Biologically this makes sense, consider the green grass, green trees and vegetation. There is a clear biological connection between the colour green and what it symbolises, like safety, peace and the environment. We are biologically wired to trust this colour, hence why it makes us feel good!
Cute animals and pets
Several studies show that the connection between pets and mental health is very positive. According to the statistics, 74% of people found that their mental wellbeing improved as a direct result of having a pet.
Biologically, pets and animals release oxytocin — another feel-good chemical — also known to counteract the effects of stress. Even if you’re not lucky enough to own a pet, you can offer to walk someone’s dog or even watch cute animal videos on YouTube.
Simple things you can do
We challenge you to reconnect with nature. Find new ways to explore what works for you and how you can implement it into your daily life. For example, go stretch your legs outside during your lunch break or visit your local park and bask in the greenery.
When you’re outside, take the time to really listen to the sounds of nature: birds tweeting, the hum of chatter, the breeze in the trees. This level of mindfulness will help you stay grounded, therefore supporting your wellbeing.
Whilst screen-time is inevitable, try and find other ways to wind down in the evenings. We’re all partial to binge-watching a TV series, but it’s more beneficial to call a friend or listen to a podcast while you take a stroll in nature. With summer coming, opt for reading or listening to music in the garden.
To sum up...
The fact is, it’s not just being around nature but how you open yourself up to it. Combining the experience and engagement is what will really connect you with nature. This is the goal for Mental Health Awareness Week, which should also be number one on your agenda!
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