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The Mental Health Benefits of Nature and Being Outdoors 

health benefits of being outdoors

There is something to be said about the way we feel in nature. Whether or not you’re an “outdoorsy” person, just stepping outside can have a profound impact on your spirits. The warmth of the sun on your face. A rippling current on your feet. The soft sounds of the birds on a quiet afternoon. The smell of the grass in the morning. The examples can go on, but that feeling remains the same. When we spend time in nature, and feel safe, there is a significant sense of peace

Studies support this, showing that time in nature is an antidote for stress. The simple act of being outdoors can reduce anxiety, improve self-esteem, boost a person’s mood, and promote a sense of calmness. These are just some of the many mental health benefits of nature. There are also an array of physical health benefits, including enhanced immune system function and increased rates of healing. Evidence also suggests that being in nature has the power to reduce symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and aggression in individuals. 

Ecopsychologists, who specifically study the connection between humans and nature, are uncovering a body of evidence supporting the positive effects of nature on our physical and mental wellbeing. (We’ve outlined some of the many benefits below.) It’s for this reason, though, that more and more mental health professionals are turning back to our roots—to nature—to support their treatment efforts. At Turnbridge, experiential therapies outside, in nature, are core to our mental health treatment programs. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why. 

The Effects of Nature on the Brain 

Whether you’re struggling with a mental illness or simply going through a hard time, spending time outdoors can have a significant impact on your mental health. Those who spend time in nature often experience a reduction in stress and other negative emotions. They also report increased happiness, improved sleep, and heightened levels of motivation, attention, memory, creativity, and meaning. 

This is all because of how our brains respond to natural settings. When we step outdoors, and again feel safe in that natural environment, various systems in our brains go to work. On one hand, the brain’s stress response system decreases its activity, lowering its levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and easing the work of the amygdala, which processes fear and anxiety. This promotes overall feelings of relaxation in individuals when they are outdoors. 

Furthermore, spending time in nature helps to restore attention and cognitive function. Natural settings offer a break from the constant stimuli of urban environments, allowing the brain to recuperate from mental fatigue. The parts of the brain responsible for attention and focus become more active when we spend time in nature.  

Perhaps the most widely cited benefit of nature is its profound impact on mood, triggering increased activity in the regions of the brain that are associated with pleasure. The release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine contributes to feelings of happiness and overall wellbeing.  

The Mental Health Benefits of Nature 

When we are exposed to nature, our brains reap the rewards. Here are some of the positive ways that nature helps promote better mental health: 

  • Improved mood  
  • Increased energy levels 
  • Increased creativity 
  • Improved concentration and attention 
  • Enhanced cognitive function 
  • Reduced stress 
  • Better sleep 
  • Higher quality of life 
  • Opportunity for introspection and self-reflection 
  • More neuroplasticity within the brain, allowing for structural and functional changes to occur 
  • Reduced risk of developing mental health disorders 

For those who are already struggling with a mental health disorder, or who are in recovery from mental illness, there is growing evidence that nature can enhance the healing process. Specifically, research has shown the positive impact of nature on anxiety, depression, ADHD, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

But this isn’t all. Nature can have a larger impact on healing as a whole. Clinical studies have shown that patients who have views of nature in hospital settings have faster rates of healing, and a lower likelihood of using pain medication, than those with views of a brick wall. 

The Physical Health Benefits of Nature 

On top of the mental health benefits, nature can significantly enhance one’s physical health and wellbeing. Whether it’s a leisurely bike ride, an intense mountain hike, or a picnic on the beach, incorporating nature into your daily routine can lead to physical benefits such as: 

  • Improved immune function, reducing the risk of illness or infection and speeding up healing 
  • Better sleep, as exposure to sunlight helps regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle 
  • Reduced muscle tension, by lowering the body’s stress hormone (cortisol) 
  • Enhanced respiratory health, due to the inherent benefits of fresh air 
  • Improved management of chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease 
  • Reduced perception of pain and increased pain tolerance, due to nature’s relaxing effects 
  • Improved fitness, as being outside in nature often goes hand-in-hand with physical activity 

Nature as Therapy 

There is no denying the positive effects of being outside, and while spending time in nature can offer significant mental health benefits, it’s important to note that it is not a substitute for professional treatment. At Turnbridge, we recommend an integrated approach to mental health therapy: combining evidence-based treatment modalities with the natural experiences available outdoors. 

Because of the many benefits that nature offers, it’s becoming an important component of mental health treatment programs today. Depending on where you look, you might find programs relating to ecotherapy, adventure therapy, or wilderness therapy. These are all therapeutic practices that encourage clients to get outdoors and get involved with nature, to improve their overall wellbeing. 

Nature-based therapies like these promote awareness of your environment, immersion into natural settings, physical activity and movement, as well as mindfulness practices. They may take place in parks, beaches, gardens, forests, hiking trails, or simply some time outside a treatment setting. The goal is to allow clients to connect to nature, in turn cultivating mindfulness, fostering a sense of belonging, facilitating the healing process, and enhancing their overall psychological wellbeing. 

At Turnbridge, our clients often enjoy holistic, recreational activities outdoors. These include: 

  • Hiking 
  • Wilderness excursions 
  • Horseback riding 
  • Water sports 
  • Camping trips 
  • Swimming 
  • Team sports 
  • Outdoor ropes courses 
  • Deep sea fishing 
  • Beach outings 
  • Boating 
  • And more! 

Learn about our various recreational activities for young men, young women, and teenagers.

If you are interested in learning more about the mental health treatment programs at Turnbridge, or looking for guidance on finding a treatment program for your loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out. Call 877-581-1793 to speak with us today.