Your surroundings can have a significant effect on both your physical and mental health, impacting your mood, behaviour and even your nervous, endocrine and immune systems.
You’ve probably experienced a situation where a room or environment you’re in feels ‘depressing’. This may have caused you to feel anxious or sad, particularly if you were in that environment for a long time.
One of the biggest factors in how a room feels to be in is whether or not it has windows. A window to let in natural light and provide a view of nature outside is almost a must for somewhere you’ll be spending a large amount of time. Working in a windowless office has been proven to negatively affect sleep and has been linked with depression.
Bringing a little of the outside in simply by adding a window to an office can have a big impact on the mental health of workers. Actually spending more time outside can bring even more positive effects. There have been many studies that confirm the link between spending time in green open spaces and a reduction in anxiety, stress, and depression.
Here are some of the ways that nature can improve your mood and your mental health:
Being in Nature Reduces Stress
Spending time in nature actually has a physiological effect on the body, reducing blood pressure and the hormone cortisol, which is linked with stress. Being in beautiful outdoor surroundings acts as refreshment for the brain, which can also improve focus, creativity, and problem-solving abilities.
Even looking at images or videos of natural scenes can have a positive effect on your body and brain – a 2015 study found that brain activity was affected in a positive way when viewing green scenes. It’s not known exactly why nature has this effect. Some scientists believe we are programmed evolutionary to respond positively to nature as this is the environment our human ancestors thrived in.
Natural Light Improves Sleep
Light helps to regulate your natural biological clock. Before the days of artificial lighting, people would naturally wake up with the sunrise and sleep when it became dark. Modern life has shifted this pattern a little but natural light still has the same effect on sleep cycles. A study of workers at different latitudes, with different amounts of sunlight each day, found that less natural light resulted in poorer sleep.
This is important because insufficient or poor-quality sleep can have a negative effect on your mental health and even lead to depression. The Australian National Sleep Foundation promotes sleep as a way to battle depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
Taking a Walk Outside Acts as an Important Break From Work
One of the most obvious benefits of taking some time to interact with nature is that it gets you away from your desk and looking at something other than a screen. These breaks are important not only for the health of your eyes but also your brain.
Taking breaks provides important mental downtime, replenishing attention and motivation and increasing creativity and productivity. Research shows that people who take regular breaks perform better than those who work on something for a prolonged period. One study even found that participants improved creative problem-solving skills by 50% after a four-day immersion in nature.
Spending Time in Outdoor Spaces Increases Social Interaction
90% of Australians live in urban areas. In cities, green natural spaces may be limited but there’s increasing evidence that humans need more outdoor space to communicate and socialise. A study by the University of Illinois researching Chicago public housing found that people who lived in buildings with more grass and trees nearby socialised more with their neighbours, had a stronger sense of community, and felt safer than those surrounded by concrete.
Parks and other outdoor spaces provide more opportunities to interact with other people and engage in social activities such as sports. Your level of social interaction with others is also an important factor in your mental health, with a lack of emotional support provided by social connections being linked to poor health, stress, and depression.
Being Outside Encourages Physical Activity
Spending time out in the open also means you’re more likely to be moving your body than if you’re sitting inside at a desk. Walking is the most popular outdoor activity but the possibilities for physical activity include fishing, biking, climbing, horse riding, and sailing, among others.
Exercise is known to have a positive impact on the mind by improving mood, reducing stress and anxiety, leading to better sleep, and better concentration.
Connect with Nature and Feel the Benefits
The solution to better mental health is simple, and it’s right outside your window. Simply spending some time outdoors every day offers many benefits. It’s well worth making the effort to get out and indulge in some time in nature more often.
Western Australian Mental Health Week runs from October 7 – 14 and the theme this year is ‘Connect with nature, community and self for mental wellbeing’. There are several community events running until the end of the month to promote the benefits of nature for mental health. This is a great opportunity to find out more and get motivated to go outside.
If you’d like to talk about better managing your mental health speak to the friendly team at Psychological Health Care. We can help you learn to cope more effectively with everyday events or mental health challenges.