VOS: 5 Ways Nature Can improve your mental health

5 Ways Nature Can improve your mental health

Emotional wellbeing

November 2021

5 Ways Nature Can improve your mental health

When you're living a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle, you're living a life that's connected with nature; it can be easy to forget that.

We spend so much of our time indoors that nature can seem almost secondary to feeling good. But the truth is, while our careers might benefit from our on-the-go lifestyles, our bodies haven't quite caught up yet.

That means being in sync with nature is important to your overall well-being. Symptoms associated with mental health issues like depression, insomnia and burnout can all be managed, and in some cases even alleviated, by keeping in touch with the natural world.

In this week’s guest blog post, writer Mark Woods explores five ways you can reconnect with nature and give your mental health a boost.

Absorb early morning sunlight

When the sun rises in the morning, it is rich with infrared light. That means that even though sunshine throughout the day is filled with Vitamin D, early morning light has unique benefits.

Studies have shown that infrared light can help reduce feelings of depression, sleep problems and anxiety. It's even used medically to circulate oxygen-rich blood, and heal cells. If you want to maximise those effects, try to get around 30 to 45 of direct sunlight exposure.

Warming up under that early morning light kicks off your body's natural process and the sun activates a host of hormones which aid in emotional wellbeing.

When you get that sunshine, your body responds by limiting the amount of melatonin in your system, sending a signal to your mind that it's time to start waking up.

Not only that, having an early morning routine will help later in the day when you are trying to unwind at nighttime. As the sun sets, your body responds by releasing the melatonin it's built up, producing a natural restful feeling. Anyone who's struggled with insomnia knows how frustrating it can be to not feel tired at night – that built up melatonin helps to ease you into feeling more comfortable at night.

Even if you don't struggle with insomnia, getting a good night's sleep is crucial to nurturing good mental health. Think of your mental health as its own system that needs the right elements to thrive. Embracing early morning light can help you through a tough day.

Experience different natural environments

Being in nature helps to boost to your mental health, and visiting a variety of natural spaces can help you find what's right for you.

While leafy green spaces might make you feel energised and positive, a walk on the beach or sitting by the water might give you a sense of tranquility.

There's plenty of research to back up the concrete benefits you get from being outdoors. Even having a tree outside a window has shown to help hospital patients with their recovery.

This is why doctors in Japan can prescribe nature walks as therapy – it’s called ‘forest bathing’ and helps to reduce blood pressure. The NHS are starting to recommend these kinds of activities as treatments too.

As humans, it feels natural to be surrounded by nature and feel the benefits. Experiencing a rich variety of environments can also keep your mind active in ways you might not have realised.

Bring nature into your own space

A little bit of plant life can bring a boost of endorphins to your surroundings. You might think that means you have to go out and find it, but nature is also something you can bring into your home as a calming presence.

That's why house plants are more popular than ever. It's easy to see why people call themselves “plant parents” - taking the time to nurture another life can be rewarding in itself.

Start by looking into what works for you – are you an orchid person who enjoys pops of color? Or do you want to start out with something simple to care for, like a snake plant?

Remember that supporting good mental health is about being mindful of your needs and your surroundings, so go with what feels right for you.

If you want, you can even try out a few plants at a time – it's not uncommon for people to have a home filled with plants. It can be fun to watch your little buddies grow and say 'thank you for feeding me nutrients!'

Exercise in the fresh air

This one will feel easy for some people, and hard for others. However, remember that your body and your mind work together as a team, so when you take care of your body your emotional health will also be regulated.

If you want to embrace more exercise, it’s not necessary to start running three times a week – you can begin slow. There's no right or wrong way to make progress, and even a leisurely stroll, an online movement class, or cycling are a few examples of how you can get started.

As time goes on, consider increasing the amount of exercise you do, bit by bit. Yoga is a great way to be more active, in a way that’s also low risk and relaxing. You can increase the intensity of the movements if you choose to - whatever feels right for your body.

Being more active doesn't have to be something you do on your own either. If you're feeling social, join a team sport. Not only does that help you increase your exercise regime, the connections you've made can also help you stay motivated in the future.

No matter what form of exercise you choose to do, being active helps to decrease stress hormones, like cortisol. It also releases endorphins and serotonin which help to improve your mood, increase energy levels and promote quality sleep.

Once you've got a handle on what you enjoy, slowly increase your activity level and try to create a target for yourself to keep motivated, e.g. two and half hours of exercise a week.

Accept nature on its own terms – as something to be enjoyed

You're not always going to have the energy to get up at the crack of dawn or be active. Life can be busy and unexpected circumstances can happen – you don't have to force it.

In fact, try doing just the opposite. You want to be in sync with nature and flow with it, not against it.

If it's a sunny, beautiful day and you have some time, go for that walk. If it's raining out and you'd like to stay at home bundled under a big blanket, that makes just as much sense. Research shows plenty of reasons some people find the poor weather so cozy, such as the sound of rain helping to reduce anxiety. In turn, this is another way you can tune into nature.

Your body knows what it wants. Living alongside nature is something humans have been doing for a long time. It’s given us the gift of intuition; learn to listen to what nature is telling you.

Go at your own pace

You may find reasons to avoid taking part in activities or being outdoors, and stress can create even more roadblocks. However, studies show that even minimal contact with nature helps to reduce anxiety, fear, anger, muscle tension, blood pressure, heart rate, and the possibility of burnout.

Try to capture those benefits by practicing yoga, going for a hike, or caring for a plant - see what fits for you and you’ll find yourself ready to take more steps. You might not be able to make the most out of every one of your opportunities, but nature always gives you another chance.

Learn to trust yourself and embrace whatever life offers. Go with what feels comfortable, and remember that nature rewards you inconsistent doses.

Original source: 5 ways nature can improve your mental health

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