It’s amazing being green. Earth Day is an important reminder to think about how we impact the environment and how we need to take better care of our world. At the same time, let’s refresh on the environment’s incredible benefits for our mental, physical and emotional health.
All it takes is a step outside for some outdoor self-care.
Pour yourself a nice long forest bath
Nature is a healer. It’s about as “all-natural” as it gets. You might have felt refreshed and recharged if you’ve ever taken a stroll through a park or gone on a camping trip. It’s not just a feeling. Research shows that time outside changes the chemical balances in our brains for the better.
For years, people in Japan have called this Shinrin-yoku, which loosely translates to “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere.” In 1982, the Japanese government began promoting the concept of forest bathing to the public. Now it’s a commonly prescribed facet of treatment for various conditions and the overall maintenance of wellbeing.
Your brain on nature
A short walk, stroll or roll in nature can be tremendously positive for your mental health, but there are lots of ways a forest bath can boost your holistic health.
Boost your mood
Time in nature has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms and feelings of anxiety. If you can find a spot with some water in the environment (a babbling brook — maybe a glistening pond or two) and the mental health benefits only go up.
Exercising and being active in green spaces is another great way to get a double dose of goodness from physical activity and the proven benefits of time in nature. For folks in treatment for a mental health condition, time in nature can be an excellent way to supplement counseling, medication and other therapies.
Let's Walk and Roll
Naturally ease stress
Studies show that a little time in the natural world has tangible results. It can help lower cortisol levels, slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure and soothe your parasympathetic nervous system. At the same time, it increases happiness hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which can make you feel more balanced during the day and sleep more soundly at night.
Even better, as few as 20 minutes outside is enough to give you an all-natural de-stress session.
Connect to gratitude
Take some time to smell the flowers — and feel grateful for them. A regular gratitude practice is a meaningful way to increase mindfulness and feel more joy in your life. A walk, stroll, meander, picnic or quick doze in nature is the perfect time to feel gratitude.
Start by taking in the abundance of nature around you. Look for sights and sounds that make you feel happy and relaxed. Then extend this moment to anything you feel grateful for in any aspect of your life. While outside, you’re automatically in an environment that’s a little more conducive to thinking about your feelings, emotions, and awareness.
Fight attention fatigue and amp up creativity
It’s widespread for your attention to wane during the workday, whether your job is in an office, the home, or something in-between. A simple change in scenery can help lift your brain fog.
Instead of grabbing your second (or third… ok, maybe it’s your fifth) coffee of the day, try heading to a park instead. Multiple experiments show that the “modest” attention required when you’re in nature helps alleviate mental fatigue and restores your attention span. Getting away from high-alert environments (speeding traffic, loud noises, interruptions) into a relatively low-alert environment (birds chirping, grass growing, a squirrel finding the perfect nut) is key to a temporary mental break.
If you’re a busy parent or caregiver and can’t get away alone, time in nature with your kids or loved ones is an excellent way to spend quality moments together.
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Support your immune system
Surrounding yourself in nature as little as once a month can help regular your immune system. Whenever you’re in nature, your cellular activity adapts. Beneficial natural “killer” cells — the ones that can help destory tumors and harmful cells — become more active and, over the long-term, can help strengthen your immune system at a cellular level as well.
One day spent in nature has been shown to elevate beneficial cell counts in the blood for as long as seven days after. Those cell counts can be boosted for as long as 30 days for folks who spent two to three days outdoors.
Help prevent chronic disease
Research shows that forest bathing and time in nature can help produce anti-cancer protein in the body.
Part of this response is because of a little something (a very, very little something) called terpenes — a substance emitted through tree bark, leaves, pine needles, moss, mushrooms, and other plants. They’re also one of the main chemical components of cannabis.We breathe terpenes in during forest walks and even absorb them through our skin. Not only do they smell great, but research shows that they have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties and might even help combat cancer.
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A little nature goes a along way
Not everyone has the same availability and access to natural environments. While getting away to an area as removed from urban life as possible is best, there are still many ways to get similar benefits while sticking closer to home.
- Head to a park, parkette, or yard
- Take a stroll through a gardening supply store or greenhouse
- Visit a botanical garden or community garden
Simulated natural environments can have similar stress-lowering effects as actually being outside.
- Play nature sounds from a sound machine, app or video
- Set screensavers and wallpapers to images of nature
- Play videos, either actively or in the background, showing natural environments