Nature is calling! Can you hear it? For clearer thinking, better focus, and less anxiety, it’s time for some fresh air and beautiful scenery. Studies show that spending time outside in nature improves your mental capacity and relieves stress. So, as we get ready for summer, let’s dive in into how nature improves mental health.
I was just outside a few days ago after having a cold and I will say, that about 15 minutes after I stepped outside, I felt much better. It lifted my spirits, cleared my head, and had me feeling much more energetic than I had in the last few days. So what is it about the outdoors that does this? For one thing, it’s the sunshine. Vitamin D from the sun + the actual light coming from the sun into your eyes and penetrating your skin does several wonderful things for the body, which effect the mind.
Being outside reduces stress hormones
First and foremost, sunshine lowers cortisol hormones in the body. Cortisol increases when we are stressed, making us expend our energy. The American Psychological Association explains it like this,
American Psychological Association – Stress Effects on the Body
“When the body is stressed, the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) contributes to what is known as the “fight or flight” response. The body shifts its energy resources toward fighting off a life threat, or fleeing from an enemy. The SNS signals the adrenal glands to release hormones called adrenalin (epinephrine) and cortisol.”
This fight or flight response is great when we are in an emergency situation, and need that extra adrenalin and cortisol to push us through, but when we are under continual stress, it can over produce. This leaves us with very low energy, which can lead to weight gain or a depressed mood. As well, chronic fatigue, and anxiety issues may develop. If you have ADHD, you may even experience a mental “crash. So, isn’t it a blessing that just a little outside walk or a sit on the porch can help us positively relieve this stress? As well, our body replenishes much needed energy to help us cope better mentally with continued stressors and rebalance our hormones.
Sunlight releases nitric acid
When we experience intense emotions, outside sunlight helps our brain by releasing nitric acid into our blood. This chemical compound is what brings down your blood pressure. Lower blood pressure, lowers your heart rate, which also decreases your chance for a heart attack and/or a stroke! So, what I’m saying is next time, you are about to blow your top….take a walk outside in the sun!!!
Nature increases serotonin levels
Next, being outside elevates our mood, and increases how nature improves our mental health through the feel good hormone serotonin. Serotonin is a mood regulator. If we don’t have enough, we can experience the following:
- Mood issues
- Anxiety/panic attacks
- Trouble sleeping/insomnia
- Nervous stomach
- Suicidal behavior.
- Obsessive-compulsive issues
The sun helps produce melatonin
Another thing the sun does is help produce melatonin in the body, which is the chemical that helps us sleep. When we don’t sleep, our brain begins to change and it can cause memory issues, mood issues, brain fog, and lack of focus. A way to assist the body to produce even more melatonin is to regulate your light and dark cycles better. And…at least 2 hours before bed, stop playing/working on your phone because the lights from cell phones decrease the melatonin in the body, and keep us in “wake” mode! Also, make the bedroom comfy cozy, and block outside light coming in from the street with black out curtains, if necessary. I found some beautiful ones, in different colors and patterns, by Nicole Miller, at TJ Maxx.
How to get maximum benefit from time outdoors
With these things in mind, how can we get maximum benefit from our time outdoors?
- Make it a priority by scheduling outdoor time on the calendar, just like an appointment.
- Even so, don’t miss an opportunity. If the weather is nice, and you are crafting, working on your lap top, etc. head to the porch with a table and let the sounds of nature motivate you!
- When walking, or gardening, Ditch the technology and the ear buds and take in the music of the birds, animals, and the sounds of people playing and working outdoors.
- If you suffer from anxiety, or ADHD, when walking, or just sitting outdoors, practice mindfulness by really taking in the surroundings and not letting your mind take you away from the present. Practice bringing your thoughts back to your surroundings. This is a great focus exercise that and relieves stress. Practicing mindfulness helps with self control as well.
Using our senses outdoors to improve mental health
How nature improves our mental health is not only the sunshine, but also from just being outside, alone with all of our senses. Whether we are seeing God’s beauty of the trees, feeling the crispness of a fall day, or listening to the animals scurrying around the yard, we are relieving stress. A study exposing adults to the forest showed amazing physical results related to relieving the stress of the mind.
If you would like to learn more about other lifestyle changes and as well as a nutrition plan that can assist you with your mental health, please contact me for a consultation. I would love to assist you! As well, I offer a workshop entitled Brain Fix that deals with all aspects of ADHD, anxiety, and an overworked brain.
Wow, with all this talk, I’m really ready for vacation!! I want to let my senses take me away into nature and let it completely envelop my mind. I’m ready to smell the flowers, feel the wind in my hair, drink in the Vitamin D of the sun and feel my body begin to relax. So what do you say? Are you ready to allow nature to improve your mental health? If so, let’s go!