Available treatments for mental health conditions are constantly progressing and evolving. With each new medication, it can be easy to forget the benefits of simple therapies that have been around for centuries. Exposing yourself to the wonders of nature has long been considered therapeutic for many health conditions. However, this has become increasingly dismissed by society.
This view can be especially prominent in regions and cultures that rely heavily on modern medicine to provide a convenient solution in the form of a pill. Such medicines are typically first-line treatments and can drastically improve mental health conditions. However, that doesn’t mean capitalizing on the numerous potential benefits of supplemental therapies like nature should be dismissed. Periodic exposure to nature has been studied and shown to provide many mental health benefits, including those discussed below.
Your mood is a significant component of your mental health. This is most evident in mood disorders like depression or anxiety. However, it is also relevant in other mental health conditions where mood is not the primary focus. It’s normal to have fluctuations in your mood. Yet, with a concurrent mental health disorder, periods of worsened or unstable mood can worsen symptoms of your condition.
Increased exposure to nature can provide significant improvements in mood. You might imagine this as practicing yoga on a white sandy beach or meditating near a waterfall. However, the same benefits can often be experienced by visiting a park or any space with green vegetation like grass and trees. Spending time in these “green spaces” has been shown to decrease depression, relieve anxiety, and improve overall affect. A better, more stable mood can make managing your mental health disorder much easier.
Some degree of stress in life is unavoidable. However, minimizing stress is key to your mental wellness. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone in your body, is released from the adrenal glands. While it serves vital functions essential to survival, persistently high levels of this hormone can harm your mental and physical health. Beyond this, the psychological burden of excessive stress can exacerbate underlying mental health disorders or create new ones.
Increased exposure to nature can reduce stress and limit these negative consequences. Determining how nature can do this for your mental health will be unique to you. For some, this stress relief could come through taking a stroll through the park. Others might find it through more involved activities like mountain biking. Regardless of what enjoyable exposure to nature is for you, finding it can significantly reduce your stress.
If you stay inside with the windows closed and the lights off, there’s a good chance your mood will decline. This is similar to what is seen in seasonal affective disorder, in which depressive symptoms develop during the fall and winter. One key component of this phenomenon is the presence or absence of sunlight which plays a complex role in mood regulation.
By increasing your exposure to nature, you also increase your exposure to sunlight. Sunlight increases Vitamin D production, which has been correlated with a decreased risk of depression. Sunlight also prevents the release of melatonin by the pineal gland, making you feel more alert and awake. Beyond these physiologic reactions to sunlight, many experience an improvement in their mood indirectly from sunlight due to the variety of activity opportunities that come with sunny weather.
It’s widely known that physical wellness contributes to mental health. Exercise increases the release of hormones like dopamine and serotonin, making you feel happy. The resulting physical fitness can also improve your mental state and self-image. For many, exercising can become a hobby they enjoy rather than a means to an end. Having healthy, fulfilling hobbies can also improve your mental health.
While these results can be achieved at home or a gym, nature is another possible setting for achieving your exercise goals. Due to the stationary and repetitive motions, running on a treadmill or lifting free weights isn’t for everyone. In nature, you can achieve physical fitness and its benefits through more diverse activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, surfing, skiing, swimming, or rock climbing. Many of these activities are hobbies with the added benefit of exercise.
One of the most overlooked determinants of mental health is spiritual wellness. In western medicine, science is the pillar of healthcare therapy. Some people may be reluctant to depend on something a little more abstract, like spirituality. Others may avoid pursuing spirituality due to mistakenly thinking spirituality and religion are the same.
For many people, nature plays a critical role in this process. In a world full of billions of people and seemingly neverending to-do lists, getting time to yourself to be alone with your thoughts can be challenging. Spending time in nature can be a way to clear and recenter your mind. The grandiosity of nature can also offer a new perspective on life that is often spiritual. Nature can remind you how big the world is, and problems that seem like mountains can suddenly feel much smaller. This sense of something bigger than you is often key to spiritual growth.
Nurture With Nature
Medicine and psychotherapy are indeed the cornerstones of mental health treatment. Still, that doesn’t mean that viable supplemental therapies have no role in treating your mental health disorder. Why not use every possible, safe treatment option for something as important as your mental health? It’s essential to nurture yourself; exposure to nature can be a healthy way to do that.
Sometimes getting treatment for your mental health disorder can feel like an uphill battle. Medicine and psychotherapy are often critical components in this treatment process. However, it is essential to consider additional supplemental, safe treatment options when they are available. At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we believe in a well-rounded treatment approach. This includes modern, evidence-based treatment supplemented by any additional therapy that is safe and has the potential to help our clients. One such treatment includes increased exposure to nature. Increasing your exposure to nature can drastically benefit your mental health in numerous ways. To learn more about how nature can help your mental health, call us at (714) 942-4143.