Let me explain how you can access free mental health support by simply going outside. 'Too good to be true' I hear you say, but really, heading out into a natural green space has a significant positive impact on mental wellbeing - and it's free!
Our affinity toward nature is certainly genetic and deep-rooted within us as humans. We once spent our day's (and night's) sleeping, living, hunting, eating outside - it was where we thrived and became, apparently, the dominant species.
Have you ever wondered why you feel better for being outside? When you’re stressed do you feel the need to go for a walk, open a window or simply go and figure things out outside? It's because you're human and nature has been in integral to our survival, Simply. we do better outside.
A famous study in the 70’s showed patients who got a natural view from their hospital bed recovered sooner than others - how amazing is that?! Simply seeing and observing through a window can help you on your way to recovery.
Time spent in nature has numerous benefits for our mental health as well as physical, and most studies show that it doesn’t take long to feel the effects, meaning it’s achievable for everyone!
Going for a walk when you’re stressed may sound like some pretty standard advice but there is a copious amount of research behind it.
In one US study, it was shown that as little as 10 minutes in a natural environment can help you feel happier and lessen the effects of anxiety on the mind and body.
Being in a green space causes your brain waves, heart rate and breathing to slow down and blood pressure to drop and this helps you to feel calmer and less anxious. During the pandemic there was a huge uplift in outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling and wild swimming, sited by many as vital for their mental health during such a difficult time.
Similarly a 2010 study showed participants who took a gentle stroll in a forest environment for 20 minutes had lower cortisol levels than those who didn’t. You may remember from a previous CBT blog on the stress reaction that cortisol is the body's main stress hormone. It's released when we perceive danger and should return to normal levels once the threat has passed.
When you experience ongoing stress and depression (yes, cortisol levels are higher when depressed too) this stress hormone is active all day long. This can negatively impact your body’s most important functions and lead to a number of health problems, including:
Anxiety and depression
Memory and concentration problems
Problems with digestion
In a study of 20,000 people by the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces, local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits, were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. What's also super interesting here is that the effects were robust, cutting across different occupations, ethnic groups, people from rich and poor areas, and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
All of these studies have shown in various way's that time in nature is free mental health support. It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function (hit hard when stress hormones are consistently high), increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.
So what are you waiting for? If you are looking for a free form of therapy then schedule that hike this weekend, go for a walk at lunch or simply head to your nearest green space now. Just get out into nature and help yourself to feel better.