The Psychotherapeutic Benefits of Nature

A growing body of research overwhelmingly supports the view that nature can improve our physical and mental health.  From heart disease to a general sense of well-being, a number of studies confirm that nature offers multiple benefits.  One study found that something as simple as viewing natural scenes lowers heart rates. Exposure to nature has even been shown to decrease mortality  

Reductions in cortisol levels may be a salient pathway contributing to improved physical wellbeing. As documented in a Japanese study, exposure to nature reduced cortisol levels and contributed to overall physical health. High levels of cortisol are linked to a wide range of ailments (fatigue, irritability, headaches, intestinal problems, anxiety, depression, weight gain, increased blood pressure, low libido, erectile dysfunction, problems with ovulation or menstrual periods, difficulty recovering from exercise and poor sleep).  

Numerous studies indicate that simply spending time in nature can help humans psychologically. One study found that nature can help people better manage their stress, grief and depression.  In addition to a more positive outlook, the same study revealed that exposure to nature can contribute to cognitive gains in the form of improved memory.  Another study showed that exposure to nature results in faster stress reduction.  Survey data reveals that spending at least two hours in nature per week is strongly correlated with self-reports of being in good health or having high wellbeing. Another study have found that nature can restore focus. 

A 2019 study reveals that living close to nature can protect us against mental illness. Researchers from the University of Berlin and Boston University conducted a meta-analysis of dozens of studies and they found that you’re more likely to suffer from anxiety, psychosis, PTSD, schizophrenia, paranoia, addiction and mood disorders if you live in a big city rather than in an environment surrounded by nature. 

A Danish study found that living in a major city for the first 15 years of life more than doubled the risk for schizophrenia. Their research concluded that greater access to green space (trees and vegetation), and blue space (water) is associated with less depression and improved mental well being.

Another Danish study found that kids who grow up surrounded by nature are happier and become happier adults. Even when the researchers controlled for variables like socioeconomic status and family history, kids that grow up in nature were shown to be 55 percent less likely to develop a mental illness later in life. The study also found that the more time kids spend in nature the better their mental health. Kids appear to benefit from any type of exposure to nature, this includes everything from wilderness areas to urban green spaces.

Stanford research reports that being awed by nature can effect our perception of time and help people to overcome mental fatigue, as well as make us more altruistic and less materialistic.  A Business Insider article, indicated that viewing nature or being bathed in natural light can improve productivity and NBC reported on a German study that found that even something as simple as seeing the color green can spur creativity. Even the sounds and smells of nature may be able to help us to regulate stress.

As reported in Green Child Magazine, brain research reveals that being in nature reduces frontal lobe activity (frontal lobe activity is related to the characteristics of depressive patients, including functional abnormalities, emotional adjustments, and cognitive controls). Nature also increases alpha wave which is associated with a calm, but alert state. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, found that just three days of nature immersion can “reboot an overstimulated brains to help us reclaim our cognitive abilities and emotional equilibrium”.

Managing Ecological Anxiety and Grief