Individuals are constantly looking for new and improved ways to expand their skills to deal with mental health. However, one of the most beneficial tools that can help with mental health illnesses is constantly being overlooked or taken for granted. Simply taking a walk in a natural environment has been proven to decrease symptoms of depression, stress, and other mood disorders (Bratman GN; Anderson ET al, 2019). However, as a society, we are spending less and less time in nature. Our daily demands require us to spend more time indoors on electronics instead of taking our work outdoors.
No matter the type of environment you live in, rural or urban, you can still reach a fair share of interaction with nature. Individuals who live in urban environments have been studied when they spent time around different natural environments (COX, D Et al, 2017). Whether these areas were parks, gardens, or just a local spot with a group of trees, all showed an overall increase in happiness and mental health. Another study was conducted to test 300 children and their relationships with nature in comparison to their adulthood depression symptoms (Snell et al, 2016). Children who grew up having more time spent in nature and were raised to appreciate natural environments showed a decrease in later-life adulthood depression symptoms.
The relationship you have with nature could have been formed in childhood or you can start to form it today. No matter the length of the relationship, having a relationship with nature is beneficial to your mental health and happiness in life.
It is important to understand that natural environments come in all shapes and sizes. Green spaces are named after their extensive vegetation and blue spaces are named for their aquatic traits. Research conducted has shown that green spaces tend to have more beneficial outcomes with mental health than blue spaces. These results were most likely found because green spaces are more easily accessible than blue spaces, but that is just one theory.
A study conducted on 2,593 school children in Barcelona, tested the impact of relationships with green spaces on cognitive skills in children (Dadvand, P., 2015). This study found that over a 12 month period the children being studied who had been exposed to green spaces at school, home, and on the commute to school had an increase in cognitive skills. Researchers explained that interactions with nature can not be replicated through electronics or other sources that many families are turning to in society today.
“Natural environments provide children with unique opportunities such as inciting engagement, risk-taking, discovery, creativity, mastery, and control, strengthening the sense of self, inspiring basic emotional states including a sense of wonder and enhancing psychological restoration.” (Dadvand, P., 2015) Without a relationship with nature, many children would not have the cognitive skills that they have grown.
In mental health, it is often taught that every individual is unique in their own way. This may mean from their background, values, or personality. However their uniqueness came to be, mental health researchers have looked for ways that certain resources can be beneficial to a majority.
A team of researchers studied 7,547 pregnant women from a disadvantaged background and their relationships with nature (McEachan, R, 2016). This group of pregnant women also had symptoms of depression. Researchers wanted to test if larger interactions with green spaces would reduce these symptoms. Results showed that the more time these women spent in the green spaces during their pregnancy the more their symptoms decreased.
This was an important finding for researchers because these results showed that individuals from all backgrounds would still receive the same benefits of time spent in green spaces. While each individual’s relationship with nature will determine their own characteristics, the general relationship is a beneficial one.
When it comes time to decide where to live, we first need to decide between rural or urban areas. It forces individuals to think about their lifestyles and values to decide which location is the best for them. But we all wonder at some point if living in a rural area might be better for our health long term. Urban areas are creating more and more natural spaces accessible to their residents, but is this enough?
This belief that rural life is healthier and urban life is most hazardous is both right and wrong. In a study done by Michael Monette, he showed that no matter where you live will have positives and negatives (Monette, 2012). However living in rural or urban settings may have an impact on the level of a child’s physical activity (McCrorie, P., 2020). 774 children across the country of Scotlad were part of a study where part of a study to see if location mattered to a child’s physical activity in nature.
The results showed that children who lived in rural areas did have more outdoors time overall. The results, however, do not show a preference towards location. Rather, with more accessible nature, rural children feel slightly more compelled to travel outdoors for activities.
Forest bathing is a healing practice in Japan, formally known as shinrin-yoku, where individuals completely immerse themselves in nature (Kotera, Y., 2020). Forest bathing practitioners mindfully pay attention to their senses while they are within nature. This can involve a walk in a natural environment, yoga, meditation, and other calming activities. Forest bathing creates a strong relationship between humans and nature.
Forest bathing has been found to improve physical health and mental health within those that practice this activity. Immune systems have been found to become healthier and kill harmful cells that may otherwise harm the body. Stress, anxiety, and mood disorders have also been shown to decrease their impactful symptoms when forest bathing has been practiced for a duration of time.
Forest bathing has been found to be growing in popularity within the hypertension population. Hypertension is a complication of cardiovascular diseases that is defined as “as consistently having systolic blood pressure (SBP) of 130-139 mmHg or higher and/or diastolic blood pressure (DBP) of 80-89 mmHg or higher.” (Yau, K.KY, 2020).
Individuals who suffer from this complication struggle because so far, there is no cure. They can only rely on short-term medication relief. However, some individuals have turned towards forest bathing to find new ways of lowering their risk of hypertension. Studies have shown that individuals who practice forest bathing show a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and stress, and a significant boost in their immune system. This is crucial to a hypertensive individual who may no longer need to rely on medication for this simple relief.
Forest bathing has been around in Japanese culture for many centuries but it is just now starting to be recognized by other cultures for its simple health benefits. Taking a walk in a forest, yoga with friends in a park or some meditation surrounded by trees could be the solution for physical and mental health complications that previously were solved by medication.
In large cities or small towns, urban or rural, green spaces can be found with a quick glance at a map. As individuals of today’s society, we have forgotten the advantages that nature can give us (Amano, T, 2018). However, we need to remind ourselves how using nature and all it’s benefits can be beneficial to all aspects of our health.
Physical or mental health can improve by the most simple of nature activities. Forest bathing has proven to help decrease heart rate among other physical traits that can help even the most critical of symptoms. It is important that we all take the time to self care for our mental and physical health.
So the next time you feel stressed or are looking for a way to relax and reset for a bit go for a walk in the park. Try some breathing exercises with the LIFE app while you enjoy the beauty of nature. You may or may not realize it at that moment but your physical and mental health or benefiting from this very simple activity.