The benefits of nature cannot be underestimated. Life is full of difficulties, which can cause your mental health to suffer. Stepping out into nature is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Ecopsychology can have a significant effect on your mental wellbeing. Whether you are struggling with your mental health or you just want to practice more self-care, in this article we will discuss how nature impacts our well-being.
What is Ecopsychology?
Ecopsychology is a word that describes the psychological relationship between humans and nature. Humans have lived close to nature throughout history, and we have become well-adapted to the natural environment. As such, we have been exposed to the benefits of nature since the very beginning.
However, with the introduction of industrialization, we have been putting up barriers between ourselves and the natural world. This has been a necessity in many aspects – for example, building flood defenses or clearing land for farming. However, this has separated us from the natural world and negatively impacted mental health and well-being.
Ecopsychology reminds us that we have a psychological connection with nature and that spending time with nature is highly therapeutic. As a result, ecopsychology is often prescribed as part of a holistic treatment approach for various mental health conditions.
The Health Benefits of Nature for Wellbeing
The health benefits of nature for mental wellbeing are numerous. Below we share some of the most significant benefits of nature that may be experienced by spending more time outside in rural, beautiful spaces. We hope they encourage you to take time to step outside and immerse yourself in the natural world.
1. A Healthy Nervous System
When a person is healthy, their nervous system remains very relaxed. However, most of us spend our days stressed out or in a ‘fight or flight’ state of mind. Whether it’s due to feelings of anxiety or stress, or whether you feel like you have to juggle too many responsibilities at once and you’re feeling overwhelmed, the nervous system can be negatively affected.
Nature therapy and ecopsychology help shift your mindset from stressed out and anxious to more reflective and relaxed. Ecopsychology is hugely beneficial to your nervous system. Just the act of taking a mindful walk through the forest or fields and taking in the benefits of nature uses all your senses and helps you enjoy the whole experience of soaking up nature. It’s a beautiful way to slow down your mind and relax.
2. Able to Cope Better with Pain
It sounds unbelievable, but spending time in nature can soothe your body, helping you cope with pain more effectively. This is because, as humans, we are genetically programmed to find nature engrossing. We love staring at trees, being amazed by mountains, and hypnotized by rivers and streams. Often, natural scenes are so absorbing they cause you to forget about any pain you were experiencing. If there is a better benefit of nature, we can’t think of it!
One study reported that “clinics are realizing that a healing environment can contribute greatly to the wellbeing of patients coming in for procedures or to manage a chronic disease.” Many hospitals and doctors surgeries are introducing plants into their waiting and patient treatment rooms to help patients feel more comfortable and more relaxed.
3. Reduces the Stress Hormone
Ecopsychology can also help reduce stress. You may not need to be told that we are typically very stressed a lot of the time. Our bodies are often running on high levels of adrenaline so that they can get through the day. Whether it’s having to manage a team at work, feeling nervous about a big presentation, or struggling with relationship difficulties at home, the stress hormone is very easily triggered. It can cause numerous physical and psychological reactions.
The benefit of nature is that spending time outdoors decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body. And the best part is that you can see a reduction in your stress levels after just 20 minutes! Now, that’s pretty impressive.
4. Improved Mood
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of ecopsychology is its impact on general mood and wellbeing. Nature has an overwhelmingly positive effect on mood and wellbeing. It is restorative and can transform you from a stressed-out, depressed to a happy person.
According to psychologist, Lisa Nisbet, “there is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human wellbeing […] you can boost your mood just by walking in nature […] the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you are not physically immersed in nature.”
5. Cognitive Benefits
One of the many problems of the modern world we live in is there are constantly things vying for our attention. From our smartphone devices and laptops to applications such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. As a result, our brains always feel busy. One of the primary benefits of nature is cognitive.
Nature is one of the best cures to calm the mind. As we have already mentioned, nature helps soothe and relax. But it can also help promote better cognitive development. One study discovered that green spaces near schools encouraged improved cognitive development in children and adults living in more rural spaces showed better attentional functioning than those living in far more urban environments.
One explanation for this was presented by the International Journal of Wellbeing and suggested that, historically, humans have evolved in natural settings – having to rely on their environments for food, shelter, and survival. As such, we have a genetic predisposition and a drive to connect with nature as often as we can.
6. Better Processing of Grief
We all process grief differently, though many of us go through the stages of grief. However, many of us seek solace in nature when grieving because of the landscape’s natural ability to heal. Beautiful landscapes capture our attention, leave us in awe, and help us feel more connected to the world. This can be particularly comforting when you are grieving.
According to Cruse Bereavement Support, “Being in nature helps you to feel connected to the present when you’re spending a lot of time thinking about the past. Distracting sounds like rustling leaves or water trickling can help to focus your mind on what’s happening around you.”
The healing power of nature for those experiencing difficult periods of grief is one of the many reasons there are such things as memorial forests and park benches dedicated to the deceased. They provide calming, quiet, and healing spaces for grief to be processed in a healthy way.
7. Improved Concentration
One of the benefits of nature is that it can improve your concentration. Spending time outdoors is a great way to take a break halfway through a busy workday, take time away from your screens, and recalibrate so you can return to class more alert than before.
Spending time outdoors gives your brain (and your eyes, for that matter) a well-needed rest! It provides the opportunity to unwind from the stresses of the day and just soak in your surroundings; the sun shining through the trees, the birds hopping over the grass, the sound of the wind rustling through the shrubs.
In today’s busy, modern world, we don’t give ourselves enough time to stop and take in what’s around us. Spending time in nature lets you do this and allows you to return to your desk with a refreshed mind and improved concentration.
8. Promotes Weight Loss
Ecopsychology can also help promote weight loss. If you have ever tried to lose weight before, you know the struggle of strict dieting, frantically Googling weight loss tips. Unfortunately, many of us want to lose weight, but the thought of exercising regularly just isn’t that appealing.
Nature helps turn this attitude around. The benefit of nature is that it’s all around us. From parks and nature reserves to forests and seasides, there are plenty of beautiful places to explore. And the more time you spend in nature, whether it’s going for a walk, run, or a gentle stroll, the healthier you will get.
We all enjoy spending time in nature, and that’s why ecopsychology is often recommended to people trying to lose weight. After all, if you promote a healthy outdoor lifestyle, you are more likely to be increasingly active and, therefore, lose weight. What’s more, nature is just lovely to spend time in, so it’s the kind of weight loss solution that is enjoyable to experience!
9. Slowed Aging Process
Okay, so the truth is that spending time in nature won’t stop you from going gray or getting wrinkles. But studies have found that people over the age of 70 who spend more time outdoors tend to have fewer aches and pains to complain about.
Companions for Seniors explains it all beautifully: “If you’ve ever felt your troubles wash away after dipping your toes in a river, or been able to take a deep, relaxing breath while gazing out at the treetops, then you know that nature can be rejuvenating, reinvigorating, and refreshing. There are very real health benefits to going out and enjoying all of the wonders that the natural world has to offer – and that’s particularly true for seniors!”
Older adults who spend time in nature will stay fitter for longer, enjoy long-lasting memories, stay physically active, have reduced aches and pains, and feel happier. Nature is wonderfully healing – as we mentioned above, it certainly benefits us more and more as we get older.
10. Connectedness with Others
Another benefit of spending time in nature is connecting us with others. When we spend time in nature, we feel happier, and we learn how to reflect in a healthy way and empathize with others more.
A study was carried out in Barcelona to back up this claim, and it discovered that, of a group of schoolchildren, those who lived near or in green spaces and beaches tended to get along better with their classmates than those who lived in more built-up areas. What’s more, the children living in more rural areas were more likely to show empathy for others.
This is fascinating and is a great encouragement because it shows just how powerful spending time in nature can be. Spending time in nature isn’t just beneficial for us as individuals, but it can have a positive and lasting impact on the lives of those around us.
11. Relieves Feelings of Loneliness and Isolation
Ecopsychology has helped reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation in recent years. With more people isolating at home, working remotely, and staying in, it’s become more evident that nature helps us reduce isolation.
During the past couple of years, many people left the confinement of their homes to seek the wide-open spaces provided by nature. For some, it was an opportunity to meet with friends and family (socially distanced, of course), and for others, it was simply for a change of scenery. However, we all sought out nature during these last couple of years to help relieve our feelings of isolation.
Whether working from home, isolating due to sickness, or being unable to meet with elderly relatives and vulnerable family members, the early 2020’s has been a difficult time of separation for many of us. This caused significant feelings of isolation and saw many cases of declining mental health.
Nature has provided us a place to belong, a place to feel connected with the world around us, a place to rest and relax after a hard day, a place to heal and grieve, a place to unwind and refresh, and a place to strengthen our mental wellbeing.
As you can see, ecopsychology is extremely beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing. Whether it’s feeling more connected with others, improving your concentration, reducing stress, or improving your overall mood and wellbeing, nature therapy can greatly benefit everyone. People are meant to spend time outdoors in nature with friends and family. So, if you’re looking for a quick way to boost your mental health, consider the benefits of ecopsychology and spend time outdoors.