Nature and Mental Wellbeing

One of the recent classes in the Holistic Mental Wellbeing Course was on nature and mental wellbeing. We had great fun doing the class under a big tree at the Hamilton Gardens!

The relationship between nature and mental health was first written about decades ago, and has been steadily gaining ground in the past few years in wellbeing research.

In Japan, forests have been used for a long time to increase wellbeing through a practice called Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere with the senses, or “forest bathing”). Researchers have found that spending time walking in the forest results in decreased blood pressure, increased feelings of relaxation, lower stress hormones (no surprise right?) and even increased immunity. In terms of psychological wellbeing, forest therapy has been found to reduce self-reported scores on measures of anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion; and increase feelings of vitality.

An interesting study by Stanford University looked at the effects of walking for 90 minutes in a nature setting vs. walking in an urban setting. Researchers found that participants who did the nature walk had reduced activity in an area of the brain associated with depression. This area shows increased activity during rumination (thinking about things over and over), a common feature of persistent low mood.

Interestingly, even indoor contact with nature (looking at plants or photos of nature, touching or breathing the scent of wood, listening to forest sounds) has been found to have positive physical and psychological effects.

The effects of being in nature can't be adequately described in words or even research outcomes. Experience is everything. We are so very lucky to live in a country where we are surrounded by opportunities to connect with beautiful natural spaces. Whether you are drawn to lakes, mountains, wide open spaces, trees, beaches, or snow, the time you spend in direct contact with nature is like refilling your sense of peace and vitality in an often fast-paced world.