Get Outside: How Being in the Outdoors Improves Mental Health
Updated: Apr 25
With spring right around the corner, many of us are itching for warmer weather! Temperatures are rising, and when it gets above 50 degrees, there's an influx of people walking outside, spending time in their backyards, and heading to parks just to soak up the sunshine, knowing that as quickly as this 50 degree day came, it'll be gone just as fast. The winter months can be unpredictable when it comes to the weather, so when there's a warm day, you'll see just about everyone taking advantage of it!
Have you ever noticed just how good you feel after spending some time outside? How at peace your soul is? Did you notice that you feel happier, and the things that used to irritate you aren't as irritating? Maybe you notice that you have more patience with your children or partner, or that you're spending less time on your phone. Whatever you notice, one thing is for sure: we feel better when we're outside. We feel grounded and connected to ourselves. We're able to be more present with our people. But why is that, exactly? What's so good about nature that it makes us feel this good when we're spending time in it?
Nature & Mental Health Disorders
In a super interesting study conducted by researchers of residents who lived in Denmark, when children are exposed to large green spaces before the age of 10 years old, they have a significantly reduced risk of developing certain psychiatric disorders later in life, including depression, substance use disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders, and schizophrenia (Weir, 2020). Children who are exposed to less green spaces before the age of 10 have a 55% higher chance of developing certain psychiatric disorders compared to the children who were exposed to large green spaces. But, get this: even images or videos of nature were proven beneficial to children and adults. Regardless of whether these children and adults lives in urban or rural settings, any exposure to nature, whether it be in person, through images, or through videos, caused improvements positive emotions, attention, and the ability to solve problems they're facing. However, the effects were proven to be stronger with those who were physically outside.
Being in nature has also proven to help us be kinder to other people and our planet. The generous and kind behaviors weren't associated with an increased mood, but rather that because they were happy, they were more giving. Something powerful happens when we feel how we're connected to something larger than ourselves.
Connecting to Nature
How much time in nature is enough for it to leave lasting positive impacts? In a study conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom, they found that people who spend at least 2 hours a week in nature reported greater well-being and health than those who spent less. This held steady across all subgroups, including those with chronic health issues. It didn't matter if you spent your 2 hours in nature in one sitting or if you spread it out across the week: the effects were the same.
Even though remote work has become common since COVID-19, giving people the ability to maybe have a bit more freedom to step outside throughout the day, it still keeps people at their desks in their home offices. Getting outside helps us feel connected not just to nature, but to ourselves and the people around us. In a study conducted at the University of England, researchers found that people who feel more connected to nature have a well-being that surpasses simply feeling content or like they have a purpose. It's a deep-seated knowing of goodness. (Weir, 2020).
Land and Sea and In-Between
It doesn't matter if you prefer mountainous views or ocean-side front row seats; both have been proven to be incredibly beneficial for our overall well being and mental health.
Not everyone has the ability or privilege to live on a piece of land that provides them with a few acres of nature. But what's cool about nature is that any bit of nature is good for us. So whether you live in a high-rise New York City apartment with a patch of green grass between the sidewalk outside the lobby door or on land where fields are your neighbors, any bit of nature is good. Just like a little bit of exercise is better than not exercising at all, take advantage of nature when and where you can!
Because of climate change, our planet is in need of some serious love and care. As mentioned before, when we feel connected to nature, it propels us to do something to care for our environment and the home we live on. We make small changes in our every day lives, like giving up the use of plastic in our house or starting to recycle, to make the world a better place. We begin to do our part.
Connecting to nature connects us to ourselves, the world, and the people around us. It improves our mood, decreases our risk of developing mental illness, and gives us the motivation to care for the planet we're living on because it helps us realize that we're all apart of something that's bigger than ourselves. Researchers found that spending as little as 2 hours a week outside provides us with these amazing benefits!
Here are a few ways you can start getting outside:
- take lunch breaks outside
- visit your local park for an evening stroll
- exercise outside
- open up the windows to let fresh air in
- take a walk
- go for a run
- go on weekend hikes
- if you have a front porch or back deck, sit outside for a 20 minutes a day
It's easier to plan outdoor activities in the summer months when the weather is almost always nice, but even if you have to bundle up to combat the colder weather in the winter months, it's still possible to get outside and enjoy nature!
Weir, K. (2020). Nurtured by nature: Psychological research is advancing our understanding of how time in nature can improve our mental health and sharpen our cognition. American Psychological Association, 51(3), p. 50.
At Root Counseling, we love nature and understand the importance of caring for our environment. We know the powerful effects nature has on our well-being, which helps us encourage clients to create a routine that incorporates being in nature in their lives. To schedule an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.