“Get some fresh air.”
This phrase is commonly used during times of stress. There may be no time in history when getting outside has been more powerful for our health, both physical and mental, then through the COVID-19 pandemic.
But what is it that’s so calming about nature? The truth is – sometimes the walls can feel like they are closing in – and one of the easiest ways to lessen negative thoughts can be found in natural settings.
Improved Mental Health
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 40% of U.S. adults experience some type of anxiety disorder. As the probability of developing mental health disorders continues to increase, access to nature’s restorative properties can serve as a starting point on the road to recovery.
Even the smallest dose of outdoor exposure can significantly reduce anxiety levels. New research from earlier this year found that college students felt less stressed and happier after spending as little as 10 minutes in nature. A leisurely walk along the beach or a short hike in the woods can be energizing and a major endorphin booster.
Another reason nature has been linked to enhanced well-being is because of its long-lasting positive effects. In fact, many SCA members have noted that their nature experiences were transformative in terms of improving mental health and the benefits of being in nature extended far beyond their service terms.
The discovery aspect of nature is known to have a direct impact on cognitive functions. Small tasks, like sitting in a local park to watch birds or collecting shells from the seashore, can increase attention spans, strengthen memory, and sharpen concentration. The focus that comes with activities like identifying forms of wildlife, plant species, or bodies of water keeps the brain active and healthy.
Nature also offers the opportunity for reflection and gives one the ability to slow down. Living in a fast-paced, digitally-driven world can become overwhelming. By connecting with the outdoors, people are reminded to appreciate the simple things. One study from the University of Kansas found that detaching from electronic devices and spending more time outside led to increases in creativy and problem solving skills.
Whether it’s exploring a new trail, paddling down a river, or watching the sunset, the sights and sounds of nature produce tremendous benefits for the mind and body.