Have you ever gone outside and immediately felt better? Has going outside and spending some time in nature ever made you feel less stressed or anxious? The answer is probably going to be yes. It’s no coincidence that you going outside ultimately made you feel more peaceful and less anxious. Ecotherpahy is a field that deals with emergence with nature and its effects on mental health. There has been research in this field that shows that time spent in nature can lead to reduced stress and anxiety.
A study in 2015 showed that brain activity of someone who spent 90 minutes walking in a rural or urban setting had less activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area that is designed to create negative thoughts into the brain. “When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions, and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts,” says Dr. Strauss. Furthermore, the exposure of nature-like sounds and an outdoor silence can also lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of a flight-or-fight response. Spending a little time walking through the woods can open up your mind and clear up your thoughts from work or other personal issues.
Florence Williams is a journalist that started to investigate the health benefits of nature. She moved from mountainous region in Colorado to the nation’s capital: Washington D.C. She immediately reports, “I felt disoriented, overwhelmed, depressed.” She also states, “My mind had trouble focusing. I couldn’t finish thoughts. I couldn’t make decisions and I wasn’t keen to get out of bed.” From this we can see that living in an area that is not predominantly occupied with greenery and nature can take a toll on one’s mental cognition and emotion.
Hollie-Ann Passmore, a PhD psychology students at UBC’s Okanagan campus, did a two week study where she asked participants to notice nature they encountered and how it made them feel. The participants would then take a picture of the photo and write some notes about how nature made them feel. Another group of participants would note down some human-made objects, take a photo, and write down how those objects made them feel. Lastly, a third participating group did nothing. Once all of the data was collected Passmore states the results of the study,“The difference in participants’ well-being—their happiness, sense of elevation, and their level of connectedness to other people, not just nature—was significantly higher than participants in the group noticing how human-built objects made them feel and the control group.” Again we can see here that those who were contemplating upon nature and being actively engaged with nature experienced better mental health results than those who were not.
Through these researches and evidences we see that there is a strong correlation between being exposed to sunlight and nature and the effects on mental health. We can generally come to a conclusion that constant exposure to urban settings does have a negative impact on our health and wellness. We should strive to immerse ourselves in nature and continue to enjoy the greenery that envelops us.