Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “an early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” And there may be some merit to these words: “Green therapy,” also known as ecotherapy, is rapidly gaining attention from researchers and those in the mental health field. Time spent in nature has long been paired with mindfulness and meditation, but only recently has the scientific community begun to study the mental health benefits of outdoor immersion.
Numerous studies now show that exposure to nature is associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, improved self-esteem and overall mental health, and lowered levels of perceived stress. Even a simple plant added to a home, office space, or hospital room can have a significant impact on mood and well-being.
If you’re suffering from low spirits, the key to your emotional wellness may be right in your own backyard. Whether you have clinical depression or simply want to improve your mental health, start finding ways to get outside each day. Absorb your natural surroundings by engaging all of your senses and being fully present in the moment. Researchers note that all you need is a mere 20 minutes outdoors each day to significantly boost energy levels and improve your mood.
Here are a few creative ways to sneak more nature into your life:
Bring your walking shoes to work. Instead of heading to the lunchroom or cafeteria for that extra cup of coffee, spend your morning and/or afternoon break outside instead. Walk around your office building for five minutes. Breathe in the fresh air, smell the flowers and fresh cut lawn beneath your feet, observe the trees swaying in the wind, feel the gentle breeze on your cheek. Awaken your senses. Engage your emotions. Give yourself permission to escape from the stresses of work for a brief while and immerse yourself fully in your surroundings.
Get a laptop. Try to schedule some work outside each day if possible, weather permitting. Many cities are now installing free Wi-Fi in parks and other outdoor spaces, making them natural escapes from cubicles and offices. In fact, if you’re a resident of Buffalo, a free outdoor public wireless network is currently being installed along Main Street from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to Canalside and Erie Basin Marina. With 30 access points—each with a range of about 250 feet—the network is designed to provide “near-contiguous” outdoor coverage along Main Street from North Street to the waterfront.
Sleep under the stars. You don’t have to plan an elaborate camping trip in the Adirondack Mountains to enjoy the peace and calm that comes from a night under the starlit sky. Arrange a sleepover in your own backyard. Spread out your sleeping bag over a chaise lounge or set up a hammock and swing away beneath night’s sparkling blanket. Listen to the calming sounds of nature and let the universe put all of your day-to-day worries into perspective. Breathe in the fresh air and appreciate the immensity of the universe as you drift off to sleep under an endless starry sky.
Organize/participate in a cleanup event. Sometimes the best way to enjoy nature is to get involved in preserving it. Volunteer opportunities range from collecting litter to leading and organizing a cleanup site, such as a highway or stretch of river. The location can be as tame or as wild as you wish—just don’t forget the bug spray! Find a river to adopt by visiting Living Lands & Waters here or check with your local department of environmental conservation or park service to find volunteer opportunities building or maintaining nearby trails.
When we consider the wide range of unpleasant side effects that often accompany many antidepressant medications such as nausea, constipation, blurred vision, insomnia, weight gain, loss of sexual desire and more besides, it seems incredible that we ignore or dismiss something so entirely natural and free from side effects as our natural environment. Nature can be an effective way to lift your mood and decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and tension—and it’s right outside our front door and completely free!
Talk a walk on the wild side—literally—for a happier, healthier, more peaceful you.