8 easy ways to improve your mental health with nature
Experts have been saying for years that spending time in and around nature is good for our mental health, and that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.
A new report published today, aka World Mental Health Day, by The Wildlife Trusts, has found that ‘nature prescriptions’ can improve the moods of people with poor mental health.
Researchers said: ‘Prescribing nature works – and saves money.
‘A natural, community-based approach to health offers an important non-medical service that will deliver health prevention at scale and reduce the current burden on the NHS.’
With this and plenty of other research supporting the fact that nature is good for our mental health, and with it being World Mental Health Day to boot, what better time is there to find more ways to get extra nature time in your life?
Take a 20-minute walk
Scientists found earlier this year that spending just 20-30 minutes in nature can cut levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, by 10%.
Spending even more time out there amongst the greenery will continue to have benefits on your mental health and wellbeing, however those first 20 minutes are the most impactful.
Even if you live in a big city, the authors of the study have said that getting out of your house or office and spending time on or around a tree or patch of grass will be enough to have an effect.
Eat your lunch outside
If you’re not the active type, or you’re just not in the mood, you don’t have to be moving for nature to have an impact on your cortisol levels.
According to Dr Mary Carol Hunter, the study leader, even just sitting in ‘a place that provides you with a sense of nature’ can help.
Exercise in a local park as well as in the gym
In addition to the stress-hormone-lowering power of being around nature, you can give your mental wellbeing an extra boost by doing heavier exercise outside too.
Dr Dimitrios Paschos, a consultant psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health, told us in the past: ‘There are many things to improve your resilience against depression, people do mindfulness, yoga, sports, generally a balance between work commitments and some form of movement and enjoyment.’
The NHS also supports exercise as a way to look after your mental health, with their website stating: ‘Being physically active can lift your mood, reduce stress and anxiety, encourage the release of endorphins (your body’s feel-good chemicals) and improve self-esteem.
‘Exercising may also be a good distraction from negative thoughts, and it can improve social interaction.’
Take up gardening
Studies have also shown that actively working with plants can reduce stress.
In 2015, a study which compared two activities – working on a word processor and tending to plants – found that participants were calmer when working with nature.
If that sounds like your cup of tea but you don’t have access to your own garden, you can rent an allotment, or you could even ask a friend or family member if you can use their garden every now and again.
Plant pots on a balcony – or even a windowsill – will also work. Think of all of those fresh herbs you could cook with.
Turn your shed into a summerhouse
If you’re one of those fortunate enough to have your own garden, you might consider taking your shed to the next level by turning it into a summerhouse.
Summerhouses, which are effectively detached conservatories, can be great to hang out in during summer or winter, depending on how well insulated they are.
Picture the scene: a comfy chair, a good book, some cosy clothing and the sounds of birds ahead, what could be more peaceful?
If you add some lovely big windows, you’ll be able to enjoy the outside without actually having to be outside.
Try camping for your next holiday
The more intrepid of you out there probably don’t need another excuse to go camping, but it’s always worth keeping the mental health benefits of being out in nature in mind.
Who knows, maybe telling your less-keen friends and loved ones that being outside is good for their wellbeing will finally get them to come along with you?
Even if camping isn’t really your bag, there are plenty of glamping options out there all over the world – from the Peak District to Croatia.
Check out your nearest greenhouse/botanical garden
It can be hard finding new and satisfying green spaces to explore in big cities, and with winter creeping up, soon plenty of us will be finding it all too easy to stay in with a warm blanket and a cuppa instead of braving the elements.
That’s where indoor green spaces really come into their own.
From the Temperature House in Kew Gardens to the Barbican Conservatory, there are plenty of lush places to get your nature fix without suffering the colder weather.
Get house or desk plants
The Director General of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) previously told Metro.co.uk: ‘We know for sure that plants and gardening are vital for our mental health.
‘There’s nothing quite like being around, and interacting with nature to relax and help ease the mind. With gardening, simply focusing on the task in hand, be it weeding, pruning or planting, can have an astoundingly positive effect on your mood.
‘Ninety per cent of us say we feel better just by being around plants and evidence continues to stack up around the positive impact of gardening and having access to green space has on our mental health.’
Plants like Aloe Vera, Bamboo and Devil’s Ivy can all do well in low-light and/or low-water environments, which makes them ideal for an office or home.
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