- Inna Khazan
Spending Time In Nature
Nature Helps Us Regulate Our Stress And Feel Less Alone In The World
In today’s world, many of us spend so much time in cubicles and in front of screens that we have become disconnected from the natural world. Yet nature is our true home—we are all inextricably part of it, and the more we detach ourselves from it, the more isolated we become. Spending time in nature fosters a greater sense of belonging and rootedness. It gives us a chance to reconnect with our roots and remind ourselves of where we come from.
Studies show that having contact with nature for approximately two hours a week can significantly improve your mental health, and this improvement generally peaks if contact is maintained for three-and-a-half to five hours a week. Not only does being in nature alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, but it also can slow down your heart rate, decrease muscle tension, and diminish the production of stress hormones. In fact, merely having a simple plant or some form of greenery in the room with you can have a positive effect on your emotional well-being.
How does being in nature help us? For one thing, nature helps soothe our pain and facilitate the healing process. A famous study done by Robert Ulrich divided patients undergoing gallbladder surgery into two groups: one that viewed trees and another that viewed a wall. Those who viewed trees during their time in the hospital reported less pain than those who viewed a wall. They were even discharged sooner.
Another study found that among people who had just experienced a stressful event, those who viewed images of nature recovered quicker from their stress than those who viewed urban images. They were able to regulate their heart rate, muscle tension, and overall physiological activation more effectively than those who viewed city scenes.
Put simply, nature increases our underlying ability to self-regulate, which in turn reflects positively on our mental and physical health. Our ancestors depended on the natural world to survive, so as a result, we are hard-wired to feel relaxed and at home in it. Spending time in nature helps us manage our stress, fosters a greater sense of belonging, and reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
Mindful Routines That You Can Practice In Nature On Your Own
Perhaps you want to spend more time in nature, but you’re not sure where to start. One of the best things you can do is begin a mindfulness routine out of doors. While practicing mindfulness indoors is healthy, too, practicing it outdoors is even more beneficial for your mental health because being in nature helps your brain unwind, and your body relax. Give yourself some time to practice mindfulness of nature: notice what you see around you and concentrate on what you hear, smell, touch, and perhaps even taste. With nature-focused meditation, you may find it easier to let go of your stress and stay focused on what’s important in life.
Additionally, going for a walk in nature can have beneficial effects on your mental health. For example, one study found that people who walk in the forest have lower heart rates compared to higher heart rates of those who walk in the city. Heart rate variability refers to the difference in time between one heartbeat and the next and reflects your nervous system’s ability to regulate itself. The higher your heart rate variability, the better you will be able to self-regulate. So if you go for walks in a natural setting on a regular basis, your nervous system will be more equipped to stay balanced and deal with stress.
Whether you want help dealing with anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue, having a daily routine of spending time in nature can help you release tension, experience peace of mind, and feel more connected to the world around you. If you would like to learn more about additional ways to get help, contact our Boston, MA office by using the contact page, or calling 617-231-0011. We're happy to provide a free, 15-minute phone consultation.