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5 Ways Nature Impacts Mental Health

1 year ago / by Sweta Vikram

Benefits include calmness, improved mood, and better connections with the community


According to Ayurveda, nature, by its very essence, heals us. We are a miniature of nature. If we take cues from it and honor the circadian rhythm, our well-being remains balanced. Ayurveda also reminds us that our health relies on our harmony and balance with the five elements (ether/space, air, fire, water, and earth), which make up our constitutions of vata (ether and air), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (water and earth) respectively.

Nature has played a critical role in our mental health for a long time. Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. We all have different experiences of nature, and different reasons for wanting to connect with it more. You might find you get something completely different from one activity compared to someone else.

Nature is Humbling

You give me a room filled with 5,000 people and ask me to deliver an impromptu speech, I am your gal. But you give me a cliff with a steep decline, I will take a moment. I have a fear of heights, but I also love the outdoors. I am unstoppable with horizontal hikes. Give me vertical climbs, and I have to breathe deeply and meditate on my sacral chakra. I have to have a conversation with my heart and mind and remind them we’ll be okay. The discomfort with heights doesn’t stop me, but I know that it’s not as easy for me as breaking into a dance move or doing yoga asanas. Knowing what we need to work on keeps us grounded and humble.

A Balm for Busy Brains

We all lead busy lives. Those of us in urban spaces have fewer outlets to quieten our busy minds. While I love lifting weights and taking Zumba classes, I can’t deny that the loud music and televisions blaring in gyms aren’t exactly relaxing. Being out in nature is peaceful and the natural sunlight is therapeutic (especially during winters). If you want to make the outdoorsy experience truly meditative, turn off the music or podcasts or any other kind of distractions. Watch the birds, trees, plants, flowers, squirrels—it has a calming effect and helps you get out of your own head.

A Mood Enhancer

No matter what culture you were born into…you have probably heard, “Walk it off.” The elderly person typically pointed towards a tree or a park and asked you to rely on nature to cool off your angst or anger. There’s something about the quiet calm of nature that is both therapeutic and contagious. It helps us cope. Connections with nature are associated with lower levels of poor mental health, in particular lower depression and anxiety levels. Researchers at Stanford University found evidence that over-rumination, due to a lack of interaction with nature, could cause a decrease in psychological health for those who live in the city.

Connects You With the Community

One of my clients, an urban, western medicine practitioner, with an unwholesome schedule was struggling with lowering his anxiety. With a partner, kids, and a demanding job, where was the time to socialize or speak with others or practice self-care? I suggested that from fall to the end of summer every year, he and his family volunteer at local parks and other green spaces. This became a great way for them to spend time together, reap the benefits of being outdoors, and meet with other people.

Reduces Stress

According to a study in the April 4, 2019, Frontiers in Psychology, spending just 20 minutes connecting with nature can help lower stress hormone levels. Time spent in green spaces significantly reduces your cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Nature also boosts endorphin levels and dopamine production, promoting happiness. Overall, there is a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced negative emotions. This includes symptoms of anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic illnesses like irritability, insomnia, tension headaches, and indigestion. Countless studies have proven that nature has a positive effect on our mental health. Japanese researchers have studied “forest bathing,” a poetic name for walking in the woods. They suspect aerosols from the forests, inhaled during a walk, are behind elevated levels of natural killer, or NK, cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and infections.

Getting outdoors doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Even prior to the pandemic, I would often do walking meetings in Central Park or Bryant Park or a park close to home (This was more for friends in the neighborhood). Instead of eating and drinking and talking shop, we would use the hour of meeting-time to walk in nature, feel mentally rested, and discuss work. There are lots of simple ways you can get quality time in nature. Move your workout outdoors. Go for a walk or a run or hike with friends in nature. Find a park near you.

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” ~ EO Wilson