How Connecting with Nature Impacts Mental Health

Wednesday, September 5 2018 Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Explore the potential mental health benefits of nature and get suggestions to reduce stress and increase emotional health in nature at HealthyPlace.

People who love to spend time in nature can tell you plenty about the positive impact it has on their mental health. Personally, I experience a noticeable decrease in stress and anxiety when I am hiking, camping, sitting near a body of water, or even walking my dogs around the neighborhood. When the weather is nice, I often eat meals in my backyard just to get a little extra outside time. For many, the calming effects of being outdoors is intuitive.

Interestingly, there is scientific research that agrees with those of us who tout the benefits of spending time in nature. According to an article in Scientific American, a study conducted in Pennsylvania suggested that people recovering from surgery healed faster when their room had a window facing trees, compared to patients whose windows faced a brick wall. The patients with tree-facing windows also needed less pain medication during their recoveries. Moreover, patients who didn’t have a window, but had a large photograph of nature in their hospital room experienced less anxiety and pain than those with abstract art hanging in their room.

According to the same article, many hospitals are incorporating gardens on their properties. It has been observed that,

Just three to five minutes spent looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water can begin to reduce anger, anxiety and pain and to induce relaxation.1

These results are significant because with all other factors being controlled, it appears to be the psychological impact of being surrounded by nature that helps patients improve their mental health and heal faster.

10 Ways to Improve Mental Health by Connecting with Nature

With this knowledge in mind, there are many simple ways we can all connect to nature daily to improve our mental health and emotional wellness. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Have your morning coffee on your patio or balcony.
  2. Go outside on your lunch break and eat at a picnic table.
  3. Keep plants in your house.
  4. Keep a plant on your desk at work. (Bamboo tends to do well without access to natural sunlight.)
  5. Have photographs of nature inside your cubicle.
  6. If you drive past a park on your daily commute, stop by and walk around for at least five minutes to destress on your way home.
  7. Watch a nature show on television.
  8. Use a beautiful landscape as your screensaver and background picture on your computer.
  9. Take your laptop outside and work for a while in a shaded area. If that’s not possible, try to get some work done while sitting near a large window for part of the day.
  10. Take five minutes to meditate to the sound of the ocean or a rainstorm. There are several ways to stream nature sounds. You can use an application on your phone or find something you like on YouTube.

There are many ways to reap the benefits of nature even if you don’t have much time to commit to being outside. I look forward to hearing how you fit outdoor time into your daily life. Comment to let me know how you improve your mood and boost your overall mental health by connecting with nature.

Sources

  1. Franklin, Deborah, "How Hospital Gardens Help Patients Heal". Scientific American. March 1, 2012.

Author: Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Heidi Green is a clinical psychologist and self-love aficionado. She lives her blissful life in Arizona where she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and snuggling her rescue pups. Find Heidi on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and her blog.

Please note: Dr. Green shares her personal opinions and experiences and nothing written by her should be considered professional or personal services or advice.

View all posts by Heidi Green, Psy.D..

How Connecting with Nature Impacts Mental Health

September, 5 2018 at 11:35 am

Nice thoughts, Heidi. I love that you focused on steps that are attainable even for those of us living in the concrete jungle :)

Other plants that do well indoors or on a desk include jade (which is also supposed to be quite auspicious), air plants, succulents (especially low-light succulents), and philodendron (those leafy ones you see creeping across people's desks).

I just read about how we Millennials are decorating with plants rather than having children... seems like, according to your post, another reason could be the plants support mental health! Here's the article:
http://www.latimes.com/home/la-hm-millennials-plant-parents-20180724-st…

September, 5 2018 at 12:01 pm

Thanks for mentioning those other great indoor plants, Morgan! I love succulents. In addition to being so easy to take care of, they are also fun and interesting to look at. :)

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