Our lives are shaped by our experiences and how we interact with the world around us, so it’s no surprise to learn that spending more time working or on our phones leads to increased stress levels while spending more time in nature helps us unwind. But what is the science behind nature and wellbeing? And how much time in nature do we need to spend in order to improve our mental and physical health? Read on to find out all about the connection between nature and wellbeing, and what nature-based resolutions you can take this year to improve your health.
The Science Of Nature And Wellbeing
A 2015 study by Stanford University student, Gregory Bratman, found that walking in nature for 90 minutes reduced levels of morbid rumination and lowered the amount of blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain associated with this negative over-thinking) compared to those who were asked to spend time walking in an urban landscape. This shows that when anxiety strikes and we’re replaying a conversation or a worry over and over in our heads, the best way to reduce this is to get out in a green space and take in the sights, smells and serenity of nature.
However, even if you don’t think you can find 90 minutes a day to get outside in nature, another studies have shown that five minutes a day spent doing ‘green exercise’ can improve your mental health and that even simply visualising nature or viewing stimulating natural scenes is much more pleasurable and beneficial to our health than staring at a blank wall.
So, whether you go for a walk at lunchtime, cycle round a lake after work, go horse riding or simply spend time in your back garden, you’re sure to feel the benefits of nature in no time. This is a version of self-medication that everyone can take that has absolutely no negative side effects!
Bringing The Outside In
In addition to getting outside in nature, research also suggests that bringing nature inside in the form of house or office plants can work wonders for our health. Studies show that plants have a calming influence, help improve concentration and memory retention, and in general improve the quality and accuracy of work completed.
Not only this, but houseplants help to purify the air too, removing toxins from our immediate environment. Tending for plants can also give us a sense of purpose and responsibility, factors that help to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression. Seeing a plant that you have cared for thrive gives even the most hard-shelled of us a little boost of self-esteem as it shows that something we have nurtured is blooming under our care.
If plants aren’t your thing, why not try aromatherapy? Aromatherapy uses natural plant oils that release wonderful aromas and natural chemicals which help to improve our mood and immune systems. Peppermint oil is thought to lessen mental and physical fatigue and enhance attention while lavender is a well-known aroma that helps us calm down during periods of stress and anxiety.
Taking Time Out
If you find it difficult to incorporate nature into your daily life, you may want to go on a retreat or take time out to go camping in order to reconnect with nature. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah and nature enthusiast, found that students were 50 percent better at creative problem-solving tasks after spending three days backpacking in the wilderness. He feels that three days is enough time to immerse yourself in nature, recalibrating your senses and allowing your brain to rest and readjust to a different way of thinking.
When we take time out of our stressful daily lives, we allow ourselves to unwind and connect with nature in the present moment. Nature Therapy specialist Claire de Boursac recently spoke to In The Moment magazine about how spending time within nature is a proven method of finding calm and how it allows us to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. This helps us to put our problems and fears into perspective and reminds us that when we are truly present fear cannot take hold.
Using Nature As An Analogy
Nature is constantly changing and evolving and as such, there are different features that we can notice each time we get outside. This helps us to be more focused and present as we try to take in the changing colours of leaves or the development of new buds on a tree. Forest-bathing is a practise that puts this focus and mindfulness front and centre and allows us to use nature as an analogy for other parts of our lives. Seeing the life and death cycle of plants and trees helps us come to terms with the circle of life and allows us to allay our fears and anxieties about death.
Similarly, seeing that plants and flowers move towards the light in order to grow and bloom shows us that we should be doing the same thing in our own lives. Surrounding ourselves by darkness and negativity is unlikely to help us thrive. Instead, we need to seek out joy, positivity and wellness in order to feel light and calm and to have the space to blossom.
It can be difficult, especially in winter, to persuade ourselves to get outside and spend time in nature, but you’ll be amazed at how beneficial even just 5-10 minutes walking around your nearest park can be! What are your favourite activities to do in nature? Can you feel the impact that nature has on your wellbeing? Are you able to incorporate nature in your daily life or do you prefer to longer nature getaways? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.