Getting outside, in the warming sun and under the bright blue sky, is so healing. There is a peaceful effect that the natural world has on us, which you’ve likely experienced. The expansive green trees, the flowing water, the open sky, and the rich dirt… just the mental images of these alone may provide a sense of calm, and perhaps a feeling of belonging in the world.
A multitude of studies has shown that nature, in and of itself, is just plain good for you. For example, one study showed that patients in a hospital who had a window overlooking natural landscapes fared much better than those patients without a window. The individuals with a view of outdoors healed up significantly more quickly and were able to go home. One explanation for this lies within the way our bodies respond to natural landscapes, especially water. The soothing images of trees, streams, lakes, oceans, skies, plants, and the like reduce stress and calm your system.
When spending time outdoors, you’re often moving. Whether it’s a walk, yoga, team sports, hiking, swimming, or any other form of movement, nature gets us active. Physical activity has long been known as essential for optimal functioning of the body and mind largely due to the activation of the cardiovascular system. An increase in heart rate during physical activity promotes the brain’s release of endorphins, improving mood and energy levels. Exercise can significantly improve mood as the brain learns to release these “happy” hormones while reducing the stress hormone, cortisol.
It’s no secret that social isolation is plaguing our modern world. As technology increases and life gets more physically comfortable, it seems that people are growing more and more isolated from each other, and psychological discomfort is surely setting in. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, and loneliness one of the most potent predictors of early death. Human beings are wired for connection, and we shrivel away without it. It’s far too easy to spend our days at home, with everything we could ever need right at our fingertips, but easy isn’t the answer to a rich and meaningful life. Nature can promote social togetherness. Imagine an outdoor BBQ, a day at the beach with family or friends, walking the dog, or going to the park. Hopefully, these activities include others and therefore promote social connection.
The sun is a powerful stimulus for mood, as it invigorates your cells with vitamin D- an important nutrient for the wellbeing of both body and mind. Vitamin D has been shown to protect neurons, as well as aiding in nerve growth and the synthesis of neurotransmitters. This is important because some key neurotransmitters greatly influence mood. Studies have shown that vitamin D can directly increase mood and ward off symptoms of depression, such as loss of hope, meaninglessness, lack of motivation, and low mood. Of course, too much sun is dangerous. Be careful about how much sun exposure you get, and always wear sunscreen.
Nature offers us a therapy of its own, some aspects of which we didn’t get to explore here. If you found this article helpful, and you’d like to learn more about the research behind Nature Therapy, you may consider looking into the book, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.
Heather Oller is a licensed Orlando therapist at Orlando Thrive Therapy, Coaching & Counseling who specializes in counseling Orlando couples, individuals, and families who are seeking changes in their lives. She has been a mental health professional for over 17 years and is a practicing Orlando counselor that specializes in conflict resolution for couples. You can contact her for an appointment or call 407-592-8997 for more information.