Studies have shown how nature improves our moods and benefits our cognitive abilities. Additionally, the outdoors benefits our mental health and our ability to manage stress.

Benefiting Mental Health

Nature helps us manage our stress and mental health.

At the forefront of our mental health is stress. Mayo Clinic nurse practitioner Jodie M. Smith said, “Stress stimulates our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for increasing our blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar in order to react to a stimulus that is causing us stress.”

Stress can sometimes push us to work harder at work or school to meet strict deadlines. However, while this may seem like a motivator, the Mayo Clinic says prolonged exposure to this stress can slowly deteriorate our mental well-being. That’s where nature comes in and helps us battle stress and its side effects. In a study cited by the Mayo Clinic, five minutes in nature can regulate the sympathetic nervous system. Smith said, “This means that we can get an almost immediate benefit from stepping outside.”

In addition to managing stress, Smith says there are benefits for people who suffer from chronic mental conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nature helps us a lot, whether someone has a mental condition or not. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that prolonged time in nature and nature-based therapy is a promising way to manage PTSD.

The best part of nature is that it’s all around us and doesn’t require a whole lot to immerse yourself in it. Smith said, “Being present in nature doesn’t ask or require anything of us, so it frees up our mind to think more deeply and clearly about things.”

Access to Nature

A public park is a great way to immerse yourself in nature.

Nature is all around us. But, it’s more accessible for others. For example, people in cities or urban areas don’t have as much access as someone in rural areas. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 55% of people live in urban areas. Cities often lack green spaces and transportation to get to a green space. Limited green spaces in a city environment combined with the overstimulating, energetic atmosphere, can negatively impact mental well-being. Smith said, “If you live in an urban environment, exploring to find even a small natural reprieve can be extremely beneficial.”

Fully immersing yourself in nature is difficult in an urban environment. For example, taking a weekend camping trip might not be possible for some people but there are ways around it. Finding a small slice of greenery in a concrete jungle can make up for it. Immersing yourself in a green space can include finding a local park, relaxing under a large tree, or finding a pond or body of water to sit next to.

Finally, a significant barrier stands in the way of almost everyone—technology. While technology is great in many ways, it is also a distraction. Smith recommends slowing down and leaving the device behind when venturing out in nature.

Smith said, “Listen to the birds and the wind and the crackling of the leaves under your feet, and you really will notice a benefit in your well-being.”