There is a lot to be said about going outside and breathing in the fresh air. If you think back to thousands of years ago, our ancestors would have spent most of their time outside, exercising daily, finding food and working during sunlight hours.
Life now has radically changed, we work on computers, live on our phones, and choose to stay indoors with the heating on. There is not a reason for us to go outside if we don’t want to.
However, throughout all of these lifestyle changes, our brains have stayed the same. We still have a deep connection with nature, research shows that if we don’t nourish this bond, despite all of the technology we have, we will suffer in many ways, especially our mental health.
According to Mental Health Charity Mind, spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. The positive effects include:
- Improving your mood
- Reducing feelings of stress and anger
- Helping you to take time out and feeling more relaxed
- Improving your physical health
- Improving your confidence and self-esteem
- Helping you to be more active
- Helping you to make new connections
Spending time in nature has been found to help with anxiety and depression, as well as other mental health problems. Research into ecotherapy (a type of formal treatment which involves doing activities outside in nature) has shown it can help with mild to moderate depression. This might be due to combining regular physical activity and social contact with being in nature.
Being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year when no sun is present.
Read a personal story of how being outside in the garden helped Mary manage her Bipolar Disorder.
Here are a list of ideas to encourage you to spend more time outside and to make the most of being surrounded by nature:
- Hang a bird feeder outside your window if you don’t have space or a garden.
- Try pet-sitting or dog walking to motivate you to be outside.
- Grow plants or flowers on windowsills to bring nature inside, especially if you don’t have a garden.
- Go fruit picking when in season
- Exercise outside – run, jog or walk in your local park or look for outdoor classes.
- Eat outside in the spring and summer. Even 10 minutes of sitting outside whilst eating breakfast before work counts.
- Watch the stars at night.
- Listen to natural sounds from your phone to make you think of nature. e.g. a waterfall.
- Take your mindfulness sessions outside, even when walking or sitting on a bench.
- Try somewhere new for a weekend country walk.
Mind. (2019). Nature & Mental Health. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/ideas-to-try-in-nature/?o=62821#.XFq9WS2cb-Z
Capaldi C, Dopko RL, Zelenski J. (2014). The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: a meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00976/full
Pearson DG, Craig T. (2014). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in Psychology. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4204431/
Thompson Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, et al. (2011). Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review. Environmental Science & Technology. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK81780/