Using Nature To Positively Impact Your Mental Health

Ah the benefits of nature! In recent weeks this has seemed to primarily consist of rain and strong winds, interspersed with more rain and strong winds! 

I even mentioned about one of the recent storms in my last article about sports improvement (Hypnosis For Sports Performance - Research and Evidence). I for one will certainly welcome the start of Spring (hopefully some time soon) with its lighter evenings and promise of at least a little warmth and sunshine.

Nature can throw all sorts of things at us, yet much evidence shows that there are significant benefits for our mental health from spending some time in nature. An increasing body of evidence has demonstrated that spending time in nature can help reduce stress and anxiety, and support mental health and well-being.

The research also demonstrates that it doesn't even take that much of your time to achieve these physiological and psychological benefits. As the research below demonstrates, we should all be actively seeking to spend a little time in nature to support our mental health.

And in a slight change from the rain, we had the very lightest touch of snow last week...  (look at me benefiting from nature right there!)

 nature stress hypnotherapy ely

 

Using Nature To Reduce Stress and Boost Mental Health

I've written before about how nature can help you to reduce your stress and boost your mental health (check it out here: Using Nature To Reduce Stress and Boost Mental Health). 

Hunter, Gillespie and Chen (April 2019) carried out a study that employed long term, repeated measured assessment on the impact of nature experiences upon stress. The research participants were free to choose the time of day, duration and the place of a nature experience in response to personal preference and changing daily schedules.

Whilst spending time in nature has a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits for mental health, this study sought to identify what sort of duration was required to reduce stress and promote mental health.

During the eight week experiment, participants were asked to maintain a regime of three nature experiences a week (each lasting ten minutes or more). They were instructed to do this in the context of the unpredictable opportunity for taking a 'nature pill' in their daily lives (i.e. to customize the nature experience in response to the constraints and unpredictability of real life by being in control of the date, time of day and duration). Saliva tests were taken to measure two physiological biomarkers of stress.

The study found that spending time with nature produced significant benefits in reducing stress. They found that the efficiency of a nature pill per time expended was greatest between 20 and 30 minutes, after which benefits continued to accrue, but at a reduced rate.

Put simply, if you can find one hour a week (out of the 168 hours each week) then there are likely to be positive impacts on your stress and anxiety levels and for your mental health and well-being. Even better, you can aim to fit this in around the other demands on your time in a flexible way and still benefit psychologically and physiologically. 

Time In Nature And Mental Health

And now there is even more evidence supporting the positive impact of nature on your mental health and emotional well-being.

Meredith et al (2020) investigated the 'dose' of time in nature that could be prescribed to college-age students as a preventative and supportive mental health and well-being intervention. As they describe in their paper, (American) college and university students, like the population as a whole, are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, stress and depression caused by factors we all can face, such as competition, feeling isolated and financial pressures.

Their findings showed that: "The 14 studies examined in this review revealed that as little as 10–20min and up to 50min of sitting or walking in a diverse array of natural settings has significant and positive impacts on key psychological and physiological markers, when contrasted with equal durations spent in urbanized settings."

The positive results were present when comparing sitting outdoors in nature, up to 30 minutes of walking outdoors in nature and for longer periods walking outdoors in nature, when compared to doing the same activity in an urban environment. There were statistically significant differences in physiological health markers of stress, such as decreased heart rate, salivary cortisol and blood pressure. And there were significant differences in psychological markers of reduced stress such as lower anxiety, positive affect and self-reported feelings of calm and comfort.

In summary, they demonstrated that "a dose of as little as 10–20min sitting or walking in an array of green spaces can have a meaningful impact in reducing stress, anger, anxiety, and in increasing vigor, comfort, positive affect, and a sense of feeling refreshed."

Nature And Mental Health 

Whilst the most recent paper (Meredith et al, 2020) was focused upon the mental health of college age adults, the growing body of evidence (including Hunter et al, 2019, above) suggest that the benefits of time in nature are applicable to all of us.

As little as 10-20 minutes of time spent sitting or walking in nature has positive benefits for your mental health that include reduced stress and anxiety and feeling more positive. 

And not only can you use it as a potential antidote when you are stressed, you should also certainly use time in nature as a preventative measure of stress and to proactively support good mental health.   

To your success

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

 

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References:

Hunter MR, Gillespie BW and Chen SY-P (2019). Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Front. Psychol. 10:722. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722

Meredith, G.R., Rakow, D.A., Eldermire, E.R., Madsen, C.G., Shelley, S.P. and Sachs, N.A., 2020. Minimum Time Dose in Nature to Positively Impact the Mental Health of College-Aged Students, and How to Measure It: A Scoping Review. Frontiers in Psychology10, p.2942.