No one needs reminding that it's been a tough year. Anxiety, fear, stress and burnout will be at an all-time high for many of us.
Forget booking that indulgent and relaxing spa weekend away, turn to nature to reconnect, rebalance and restore your mind and soul.
Those of us who hike regularly, know intuitively the power of taking a hike or a brisk walk in nature can have on our mood.
Some flash people have even coined it ‘ecotherapy’, ‘forest therapy’ or ‘nature therapy’. The Japanese have been practising forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku for centuries.
It’s not revolutionary that nature has a profound and positive effect on us when you consider the evolution of the human race and our close bond and reliance with it.
Take away any uncertainty some might feel being in a remote or unfamiliar wilderness, allow them to relax and be filled with a sense of safety, belonging and comfort. Deep down we crave nature, although many of us might not realise or admit it.
It’s right there in our human nature. In the words.
In truth, it’s a symbiotic relationship. We need nature as much as it needs us to protect it.
We all know exercise is good for us
There are bodies and bodies of research behind the benefits it has on our physical and mental health. Getting your heart rate up and having a sweat out releases these fantastic chemicals called endorphins which trigger a positive feeling in your body. Endorphins also act as analgesics, which means they diminish your perception of pain!
Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress by lowering your cortisol levels. The list is long, but here’s a few of the proven benefits:
- Lowered anxiety and feelings of depression
- Boost to self-esteem
- Improved sleep
- Increased energy levels
- Lowered blood pressure
But the benefits of exercise from a gym class or a run around the block are intensely amplified when you add a natural setting to the mix.
Mother nature as a healer
Decades of evidence also suggest that simply spending time in nature can lower pulse rates and reduce cortisol levels, helping us to manage stress and anxiety levels.
But there are some surprising benefits you might not have known about.
Boost your immunity
More than a healthy dose of sunlight and fresh air, nature can boost our good cells that fight off viruses. As we breathe in the fresh air, airborne chemicals from plants called phytoncides are also entering our system, prompting increases in our white blood cells and stimulating our immune system.
Increase mental clarity
Many of us find ourselves attached to our third arm these days. Our mobile phones are rarely left behind. The digital world is so adept at competing for our attention. In fact, it’s not just the digital world, it’s all modern distractions in our world. In a natural setting, our minds are able to switch off to these distractions, giving time for restorative rest and combating mental fatigue.
…and get better sleep
You are also removing all the new age stimuli that we often expose ourselves to throughout the day (phones, computers, TV's and the like). The result? Better sleep quality.
A soothing effect
Have you ever noticed the calming pictures of nature in a dentist’s office or doctors room? We are actually genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other nature elements engrossing, so we are absorbed by nature scenes and distracted from our pain and discomfort.
The happiness effect
Getting out into nature decreases what psychologists call 'rumination', which are negative thought patterns that play over and over in our heads such as dwelling on embarrassing or disappointing moments or thinking about everything we think is wrong with our lives.
Solve the world’s problems
Researchers believe that all the extra mental stimulus and information bombardment we are faced with daily overwhelms our brains resulting in reductions in our cognitive resources. Getting out into nature away from these stimuli restores our depleted attention circuits, freeing up more brain power for creativity (so leave the gadgets at home!).
By yourself or with friends?
The answer is either/or – and both! Walking or hiking in nature is incredible for our wellbeing. We were born social creatures and as such crave human interaction and connection. Sharing an experience in the great outdoors with friends or colleagues boosts our serotonin levels (another natural happy high!).
Prevention is better than cure
So leave the screens and concrete behind and head for the hills. If you don’t live close to a scenic reserve or wilderness area, the next best thing is to head to your closest green space, a city park or reserve is better than nothing.
If we all move towards a green prescription as a prevention, rather than a cure, we’ll be collectively better for it.