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Ask the psychologist: can nature improve my mental health?

Ask the psychologist: can nature improve my mental health?

In light of Mental Health Awareness month in May, Joanna’s Psychologists corner explores the link between nature and improved mental health with a few ways to maximize our connection to nature.

When you’re feeling low, it can feel frustrating if someone tells you to “just get some fresh air to perk up,” but studies show connecting with nature can significantly improve your mental wellbeing.

Calming the mind

It’s obvious, but when we take time to be outside with nature, we are spending time away from our usual distractions and, in particular, the screens we are all glued to! Being present in outdoor surroundings can relieve stress and boost our energy, especially as exposure to sunlight can increase your serotonin levels and vitamin D, helping fight depression. Something as simple as a brisk walk in the park or spending an hour gardening are two simple ways to give your mind a break from daily distractions.

A way to learn mindfulness

Have you read up online, tried apps, and found mindfulness isn’t for you? Then let nature step in and try again. Next time you’re outside, take a quiet moment to absorb your natural surroundings, including what you can hear, smell, see and touch, along with how you are feeling. Stay focused on your surroundings, and you’ll realise other thoughts begin to drift away.

Being more active

Spending time outdoors can also benefit your physical health. A brisk walk for an hour a day can help you lose or maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your muscles, and can even support other health conditions such as high blood pressure or heart disease. You’ll also find being more active increases your endorphins which will lift your mood and reduce stress.

Making social connections

After extended lockdowns, we have all become used to our own company, and getting back out into the world again can feel strange! Whether it’s taking up a new nature-based hobby that can connect you with a group of like-minded people or a simple walk with a friend to catch up, spending quality time in nature with company can help combat loneliness and social isolation.

Bringing nature in

Not everyone has the luxury of living near a large park or woodland, but there are still plenty of ways to bring nature to you and feel connected with the outside world.

Spend some of your working day outside

Being stuck indoors staring at a laptop all day is terrible for our wellbeing, so make regular time to go outside during the working day. Have a lunch break in your garden when working from home. Take a short outside walk if you are working in an office. Give your mind a chance to switch off and reboot for the rest of the day.

See Also

Get planting

House plants are hugely fashionable at the moment, but they can offer substantial mental health benefits, as well as purifying your air and improving sensory awareness. Growing and nurturing a house plant is a fantastic way to feel connected to nature at home.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an “outdoorsy” person, make an effort to start spending 30 minutes every day outside, and you’ll begin to see just how much spending time in nature can boost your wellbeing.

Read more of Joanna’s Psychology corner here.

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