Monday 8 October marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week here in NZ. This year’s theme is: Let nature in, strengthen your wellbeing – Mā te taiao kia whakapakari tōu oranga! The goal is to remind us how our natural environment can grow, support and nurture our wellbeing and to encourage us to get away from stimulating urban settings and surround ourselves with a natural environment.
Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
The research suggests that by spending more time in a natural setting we can reduce our stress level, and rejuvenate our mind and body and increase our happiness.
Intuitively we know this. In a study cited in the book Healing Gardens, researchers found that more than two-thirds of people choose a natural setting to retreat to when stressed because, it made them feel better emotionally.
Connecting with nature doesn’t necessarily mean we have to lace up our tramping boots. Our time with nature could be something as simple as sitting in our garden, strolling through a nearby park, taking a walk beside the river, watching the waves roll in on the beach, wandering through a forest, all of these activities can deliver the same benefits as time spent in the ‘great outdoors'.
Did you know the Japanese have a lovely name for time spent in a forest taking in the atmosphere? They call it ‘forest bathing’ (Shinrin-yoku). The benefits of forest bathing in helping lift mood is supported by research. A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, found that participants who walked in a forest had lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) afterwards than those who strolled through a city environment.
When we interact with nature we, by default, combine the stress relieving benefits of being in a natural setting with the stress relieving benefits of movement/exercise. So we get double the benefit – how good is that!
If you can’t find time to get out of the office and into a park or sit under a tree, don’t worry all is not lost. Studies have found that:
- just looking at pictures of nature can have a positive impact on our mood and stress level. In a 2012 study conducted in waiting rooms at a Dutch hospital, patients who were exposed to either real plants or posters of plants experienced less stress, compared to people who saw neither.
- just placing a plant of some kind in a room can have a significant impact on people’s level of stress and anxiety. So perhaps pop a pot plant on or beside your desk.
How much time with nature is enough? "Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful," says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. He says, "The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle."
And don't feel you have to go it alone. A 2014 study found that group nature walks were just as effective as solo treks in terms of lowering stress and depression and improving overall mental outlook.
Remember, the key to managing your stress level is to introduce regular recovery periods into your life so that your mind and body can relax-and-unwind. Spending time in nature is a brilliant and simple, yet highly effective way of providing your mind and body with a restorative recovery period.
So let’s make it our goal to get out there and let nature into our lives.
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REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."
Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.