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For as long as I can remember, I’ve held the belief that the most productive way to focus one’s attention is on problems with solutions that are actually within one’s grasp. A feeling of being “stuck” is almost always the result of engaging in excessive rumination, which is counterproductive and produces very little forward movement. In this predicament, people have a tendency to search all around and outside of themselves for the reasons why they are not moving forward, when in most cases, the answer can be found right inside their own front door. It all comes down to having awareness and confronting problems head on. Something that some people are not capable of doing and others are not willing to do.

I am also of the firm belief that in order to be in a position to find perspective in one’s life, one must first be rooted in the present moment and in reality. This is only place where one can have influence to the degree that change is even possible. The question is, how do we remain in the present long enough to reap the benefits of doing so? Meditation, quiet thought, and other forms of relaxation offer many people a sense of fulfilment. But the reason I’m here today is to call attention to nature itself, which is the most abundant and cost-free resource we have on this planet.

I enjoy being outside and am a regular participant in outdoor activities such as walking and hiking. Whenever I go through a stretch in my life in which I do not go out as frequently as I would like, I never feel quite the same. My life is more balanced as a result of my time spent in nature, rather than at the gym or engaging in other forms of relaxation. I don’t care if it’s pouring down rain or the sun is shining; when I’m outside, it seems like nothing can make me miserable, and it helps me put my problems into perspective. Nature also provides a consistency that cannot be found in our world in its current state. You just about always have a good idea of what you’re going to get at any given time of the year. According to a number of studies, abused children frequently view the natural world as representing a higher power to them. This finding is not without foundation.

Take a look at the setting that was chosen to represent this article in its featured image. It brings to mind a plethora of pleasant images, some of which may be memories as well. Just the thought of walking along that path makes me feel better than if I were actually doing it, and I can almost see myself doing it.

So the next time you are feeling down, are stuck in the city, or generally just need to focus in the moment, don’t forget that going outside does not cost anything and will bring you more joy than you could possibly imagine!

Being in nature offers various advantages for mental well-being, including stress reduction. The calming effect of natural environments promotes lower cortisol levels, which in turn helps people to relax and de-stress. Additionally, exposure to nature has been linked to reductions in feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger, leading to increased feelings of well-being and contentment.

The “restorative” effect of nature also helps in enhancing concentration. Referred to as the “Attention Restoration Theory,” this suggests that nature can rejuvenate the part of the brain responsible for focus and concentration. Similarly, the tranquility and simplicity of natural settings can act as a mental refresh button, helping to alleviate mental fatigue.

Many people report feeling more creative after spending time in nature, which might be due to the relaxation and de-cluttering of the mind that allows new and creative ideas to flow more freely. Nature walks, as opposed to strolls in urban settings, have been associated with improved cognitive functions like better memory and attention span.

Social bonds can also be strengthened through group activities in nature such as hiking or camping. This can be particularly beneficial for alleviating feelings of loneliness or social isolation. Moreover, natural settings often encourage physical activities like walking, hiking, or cycling. Physical activity, in turn, releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.

The concept of grounding or earthing involves making direct contact with the earth’s surface, like walking barefoot on grass or sand. While the scientific evidence is still inconclusive, some believe that this direct contact can balance natural electrical charges in the body, leading to improved health and well-being.

Improved sleep is another benefit of spending more time outdoors, especially in sunlight, which can help regulate the body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. Regular exposure to nature has also been associated with a better immune system, although the exact mechanisms are not entirely clear; reduced stress and increased physical activity likely play roles.

Lastly, immersion in the vastness of nature can provide a broader perspective on life’s problems, making them seem more manageable. While these benefits are influenced by a variety of factors, such as physical activity and social interaction, nature offers a unique and multifaceted environment that can be a powerful tool in supporting mental well-being.

The connection between nature and mental well-being is complex but profoundly beneficial. From reducing stress and improving mood to enhancing cognitive functions and encouraging social interaction, natural environments offer a multifaceted palette of mental health benefits. Whether it’s the simple act of taking a walk in the woods, participating in outdoor group activities, or just pausing to appreciate the beauty of a landscape, nature provides a unique opportunity to reset our mental and emotional states. As our lives become increasingly urbanized and digitalized, the importance of maintaining a close relationship with nature cannot be overstated. Its therapeutic qualities serve as a reminder that mental well-being is closely tied to our environment, and that stepping outdoors can be one of the simplest yet most effective steps towards improved mental health.

So if you are new to using nature to improve your mental health, below you will find a possible plan to make it happen. Good luck!

Improving mental health through nature is not only a holistic approach but also one that’s backed by a growing body of scientific evidence. Exposure to nature can reduce stress, improve mood, enhance focus, and offer a host of other psychological benefits. I engage in the majority of these and can vouch for the benefits. Here’s a comprehensive strategy to integrate nature into your mental health routine:

Preliminary Steps:

Consult a Medical Professional:

Before starting any mental health strategy, consult a healthcare provider, especially if you’re currently experiencing mental health issues or physical ailments.

Set Clear Goals:

Understand what you want to achieve—whether it’s reducing stress, improving mood, or enhancing your overall mental and physical well-being.

The Strategy:

Phase 1: Initial Exposure

  1. Daily Nature Walks: Begin by dedicating 20-30 minutes a day to take a walk in a natural setting, like a park or forest trail.
  2. Mindful Observation: Spend 5-10 minutes each day observing a natural element, like a plant or a cloud formation, to foster mindfulness.
  3. Outdoor Physical Exercise: Incorporate outdoor physical activities such as hiking, swimming, or cycling twice a week.
  4. Breaks in Nature: Use breaks during work to step outside and take a deep breath, feel the sun, or observe the sky.

Phase 2: Deeper Engagement

  1. Weekend Nature Retreats: Spend a weekend each month in a natural setting far from urban chaos, like a cabin in the woods, a beach, or a mountain.
  2. Gardening/Farming: Start a small garden or participate in a community garden to connect with the earth and understand the cycle of growth.
  3. Birdwatching/Animal Observation: Spend time observing wildlife to increase patience and focus.
  4. Forest Bathing (Shinrin Yoku): Engage in the Japanese practice of immersing oneself in the forest environment. Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that translates to “forest bathing” in English. Originating in Japan in the 1980s, the practice encourages spending time in a forested area as a form of ecotherapy. The concept is based on the idea that immersing oneself in the natural environment, specifically among trees, can have a range of therapeutic benefits, both for the mind and body. This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging; it is simply being in nature, connecting with it through all of your senses, like sight, smell, sound, and touch.

Phase 3: Integrate Nature into Daily Life

  1. Indoor Plants: Bring nature indoors with houseplants, which can also improve air quality.
  2. Natural Light: Make the most of natural light by opening windows and curtains.
  3. Nature Soundscapes: Listen to recordings of nature sounds (rain, ocean, forest) during periods of stress or while working.
  4. Nature-Based Hobbies: Take up hobbies like nature photography, painting natural landscapes, or crafting with natural materials.

Phase 4: Share and Reflect

  1. Nature Journal: Maintain a journal to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and observations made during your time in nature.
  2. Community Involvement: Join or create community groups dedicated to nature walks, clean-up drives, or educational talks about nature conservation.
  3. Family and Friends: Involve loved ones in your nature routines to share the benefits and strengthen your social support network.

Maintenance and Review

  1. Regular Check-Ins: Evaluate your mental health status every month to gauge improvement or identify areas that need more focus.
  2. Adapt and Evolve: Based on your evaluations, adapt your nature-based strategies to meet your changing needs.
  3. Consult Professionals: Keep your healthcare provider in the loop about your progress and any changes in your mental health.

Engaging with nature is a simple but effective way to enhance mental health. While the strategy outlined above provides a comprehensive approach, remember that everyone is different. Feel free to tailor this plan to your unique needs and circumstances.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. toting alipis

    i feel good being alone with nature… i have a garden… i grow ornamental plants… i get a lot of shade from the trees around the house… i feel soothed and relaxed when i feel anxious, jittery, depressed.