Nature is great for your mental health. And enjoying nature doesn’t always mean hiking into the distant wilderness for days on end. We sometimes talk ourselves out of taking healthy actions because we think “feeling better” should be hard. Being in nature can be as easy as getting outside to mow the lawn.
Nature is everywhere: In your backyard, in a park, on a beach, and on a quiet street. It’s really just looking at what is available to you outside your front door. Do you see the sun? Or do you see clouds? Either way, you’re on your way to boosting your mood already.
As one of the registered counsellors providing private video appointments at TELUS Health MyCare™, I often hear from guys who are feeling down in the dumps, especially after a long, cold, COVID winter. That’s when I suggest letting Mother Nature help you spring into action by spending some time outdoors!
The benefits of getting outside
Lower stress levels
Close your eyes for 10 seconds and imagine the sound of birds chirping or of waves lapping on the shore. If you felt a bit calmer after doing that indoors, imagine how it would feel to walk through a forest with those birds in the trees or to feel the sand between your toes as the surf washes over them?
We tend to feel calm when our bodies reduce the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that’s released when you’re overwhelmed or alarmed. Cortisol levels start to drop after spending as little as 20 minutes in nature. So, when you take 20 minutes to mow your lawn, it won’t only make your yard look better, but it’ll help you feel less stressed as well.
Reduce the risk of serious illness
When you spend time in nature, it can not only keep your stress in check but also improve your immune system, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and in turn, reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of bowel disease.
Catch some summer rays to boost your Vitamin D, a nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium. When calcium and Vitamin D work together, they help to maintain healthy bones and teeth.
This one might seem like a stretch, but hear me out. Research reveals that when you spend time in nature, you’re able to connect with others more deeply and have a better sense of meaning and purpose in life. The reason for this is that being out in nature can help us feel more grounded and calm, which enables us to quiet our minds and connect with what’s really going on inside of us.
Usually, we’re so busy managing our day-to-day lives that we’re disconnected from how we actually feel because we are too focused on getting tasks completed. The more you can quiet your mind and connect to yourself, the more your brain will find ways to feel fulfilled and happy. And when you feel fulfilled and happy, it helps you to engage with other people on a more meaningful and purposeful level.
Improve focus and cognition
Spending time in nature can strengthen your brain by giving it a break from our “always-on” world. One study shows that green spaces near schools promote brain development in students and that being exposed to natural environments improves both memory and focus. Just a few moments of green can perk up a tired brain.
Researchers asked students to engage in a boring task. Students who looked out at a flowering green roof for 40 seconds midway through the task made significantly fewer mistakes than students who paused for 40 seconds to gaze at a concrete rooftop. Being calm allows you to be more focused and engaged.
Get better sleep
There is also a clear connection between outdoor time and successfully getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, which is considered a healthy amount. When we get enough sleep, our emotional and mental health improves as well. This means you’ll feel less stressed or anxious after a good night’s sleep.
Healthy habits to lower your stress this summer
Exercise releases positive chemicals in your brain, which can have a calming effect. It can also give you the confidence and self-esteem that comes along with taking better care of yourself. And when you feel better about yourself, you engage in healthier ways with food, relationships with others, work, and self-care. It almost sounds too easy, right?
Keep in mind that I am not suggesting you need to do CrossFit 7 days a week. Exercise doesn’t have to be hard to have a positive effect on you. It can be as easy as you need it to be. (Yes, mowing your lawn counts.)
Exercise is really just about moving your body. Walk, garden, mow the lawn, ride a bike, walk the dog; it’s all outdoors, active, and EXTREMELY good for you. Walking briskly for 30 minutes, for instance, is a legit form of exercise—it burns around 250 calories—with men who walk five city blocks in a day lowering their risk of heart attack by 25 percent.
Have lunch outside
Head to a calm green space near your workplace with your lunch in hand. If there is no green space close to where you work, a rooftop patio or a bench anywhere in the sun will do. This is an easy way to connect with fresh air and sunshine. Both of these things can have a positive effect on you.
Take a picture
Most people are familiar with the idea of gratitude. But have you heard of savouring? Savouring is being in the moment and appreciating it for what it is. It might be noticing a sunset and stopping for 30 seconds and thinking, “Wow, that is beautiful.”
It releases positive chemicals in your brain when you put yourself in a state of appreciation. And the more you do it, the more you grow the pathways in your brain for feeling content, fulfilled and happy.
A simple thing you can do to savour the moment is to take a picture. And then later, when you’re feeling in a low mood or feeling anxious, you can pull up your camera roll and look at those moments and remember what you were experiencing when you were savouring that moment.
Setting up a campsite may not offer much of a physical workout, but it delivers plenty of brain-boosting value. Studies show that new experiences like this, especially those that force us to put away our smartphones, help keep brains healthy and sharp. At the same time, sleeping and waking according to the sun’s natural cycle have been shown to improve overall sleep quality. Rise and shine!
Take your shoes off on the sand or grass…and breathe
Admiring and listening to nature is wonderful, but actually feeling green grass or warm sand between your toes can take the experience to the next level. Close your eyes and do some deep breathing: Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose—your belly, not your chest, should rise—and then do the same when you exhale. Do this once, and you’ll feel better. Do it a few more times, and stress and tension will melt away.
What’s your favourite way to connect with nature? Share your tips in the comments below!