If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re an urban dweller. And if you are one, you would like to know that as a resident of the concrete jungle, you are far more likely to have stress, anxiety and mood disorders as compared to people who live in rural settings. One simple and effective way to offset this is to make a conscious effort to spend more time in nature.
There’s a good amount of scientific evidence that points out that people who are in constant touch with nature have better overall health and vitality and lower levels of stress and anxiety.
In a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the investigators found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting, such as a forest or a nature park, were less likely to ruminate–commonly associated with anxiety and depression–and had lower activity in an area of the brain linked to depression than people who walked in an urban area. The study authors conclude, “Accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.”
Researchers unanimously agree that nature tends to lift people’s spirits. Even a short blast of exposure to nature can bring beneficial biological changes and elevate moods.
According to one early study, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a Japanese researcher and forest-therapy expert, found that people who spent 40 minutes walking in a cedar forest had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared with when they spent 40 minutes walking in a lab. He inferred that spending time in a forest (or nature in the general sense) induces a state of “physiologic relaxation.”
Another researcher, Dr. Qing Li, a professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, also reported that trees and plants release aromatic compounds called phytoncides that, when inhaled, can initiate healthy biological changes in a manner similar to aromatherapy. According to a study in Frontiers in Psychology, there’s also the possibility that the air around forests, mountains and moving water bodies contains significant levels of negative ions, which are thought to potentially reduce depression symptoms.
While the exact mechanism of how nature helps with anxiety and depression is unclear at this point, the general consensus is that spending time in nature is extremely beneficial for our mental, emotional and physical health.
So today, no matter how busy you are, make it a point to step out of the four concrete walls of your home or office space, and spend time in the vicinity of nature for at least 20 minutes. Let the stillness and healing power of nature dissolve any stress, anxiety and depression you’re feeling right now.