Make Time to Get Outdoors for Your Mental Health

Now that spring has officially arrived, it’s time to get back outdoors!  Not just for your physical health, but also for your mental health.  Increasingly, researchers and psychologists alike are investigating the link between so-called “green space” and our general wellbeing.  If you’ve ever experienced cabin fever or open-plan office anxiety, then you’ve felt the connection between us and our environment already.  This spring, it’s time to take advantage of the natural world and all the benefits it can bring!

                                      

 The Natural Way to De-Stress

When work, school, or life makes you feel overwhelmed, spending a few hours outdoors could be the perfect remedy.  Whether you’re a fan of hiking, camping, or simply taking a walk in your local green space, these pastimes could lead to lower cortisol levels.  If you’re not familiar with this particular hormone, it’s often used as a marker for stress.  Some studies, including this one (link to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21996763) detected lower heart rates and lower cortisol levels among participants who spent time in the forest, as opposed to the city.  But when you can’t get away, even having an office with a great view of nature may lead to healthier stress levels—not to mention greater job satisfaction!  Next time you have a free afternoon on a nice spring day, try a little “forest therapy” for yourself.

 

Give Your Mental Health a Boost

When you get to the point that you’re feeling mentally worn down and unable to focus, you may actually be experiencing what we call mental fatigue.  We’re all under so much pressure these days to push harder, accomplish more, and somehow still be innovative that it’s easy to get burnt out.  To ward against this common problem and give your mental health a boost, go for the great outdoors.  There’s evidence that nature is a “restorative environment,” providing a nonpharmacological reset for our brains.  Even looking at pictures of beautiful scenery can help your mental energy!  One of the biggest boosts, though, comes from that awe-inspiring experience you get from seeing these sites in person.  If you’ve ever been to places like the Grand Canyon or Montana’s Glacier Park, then you’ve already enjoyed these benefits.  After a visit, you can return to work or school or your day-to-day life with much-improved mental health.  Just don’t forget to give yourself time to get outside again in the near future.

Add Exercise to Combat Depression

While being outdoors is enjoyable on its own, you can experience greater benefits with you add exercise into the mix.  It doesn’t have to be anything crazy—like trail running or mountain climbing.  Honestly, taking a walk or a leisurely hike through green space should amplify some of the effects we’ve already discussed.  Apart from naturally lowering anxiety and improving your mood, you could also use these activities to help with common symptoms of depression.  Spending more time outside regularly has been shown to improve your self-esteem, enable you to sleep better, decrease apathy, and more!  All of which are largely associated with clinical depression.

 

Some professionals have even gone so far as to recommend walking outdoors as an effective supplement for existing treatments.  So, while this “forest therapy” can’t replace traditional means of therapy and/or medication, it can enhance their effectiveness.  For an additional boost, look for hikes or parks that have a natural body of water nearby.  Their presence could amplify the positive effects we just discussed!

 

Take advantage of the warm spring weather by testing these theories for yourself.  In Maryland, we’re fortunate enough to have plenty of green space close by—even in the midst of thriving urban areas.  Make time to visit them and get outdoors regularly.  Your mental health (and physical health) will thank you for it!  For more information on this and other nonpharmacological approaches to mental illness, please contact Focal Points Therapy.     

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