A photo of two children walking along a path in a park to represent the topic of the article - The Link Between Nature And Better Mental Health

The Link Between Nature And Better Mental Health

It’s that time again, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and for 2021 the theme is nature. Nature has become a lot more important over the last year due to the pandemic. I think we’ve all embraced nature a little more, hanging out and exercising in parks while the gyms, pubs, and restaurants have been off the table. This is why the Mental Health Foundation choose nature as this year’s topic, as their own research showed that 50% of adult Brits coped with the pandemic by visiting green spaces. So let’s talk about wellbeing and nature.

 

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According to the Mental Health Foundation, approximately 13% of UK households don’t have access to a garden, I know I don’t. I’ve not had access to a garden since about 2008, and until the pandemic hit, I hadn’t given it much thought. Since the pandemic, I’d do anything for my own private garden to just get some pleasant outside time where I don’t have to worry about other people.

 

The benefits of nature don’t just come from green spaces either, they can come from blue spaces (aquatic) as well (American Psychological Association), and although remote/biodiverse spaces might be more helpful, city parks still come with the benefit of nature. Personally, I’m not a fan of the water, but I don’t mind an uncrowded beach from time to time.

 

As Mind put it, we all have different experiences of nature and our own reasons for wanting to connect with it more, or not, as the case may be, so different people will get something different from one activity compared to others. For example, the white members of my family get something from sunbathing on the beach. I, as someone born with brown skin, don’t get anything from it, at all.

 

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The Wellbeing Benefits Of Nature

 

Over the years, there has been a growing body of empirical evidence that’s showing us the value of nature for our mental health and overall wellbeing (Bratman et al., 2019). Exposure to nature, whether through your own garden, a walk in the park, or a hiking trip through the forest, has been linked to a host of mental health benefits (American Psychological Association). For example, a lot of people can get inspiration from nature, allowing them to be more creative, inspiring paintings, drawings, photography, and even writing (WWF and the Mental Health Foundation).

 

This supports the claims of the American Psychological Association who stated that spending time in nature benefits us through improved moods, lower stress, improved attention, reduced risk of mental illness, and even had positive effects on our empathy and cooperation. 

 

Just feeling connected to nature can produce similar benefits to our wellbeing, as it doesn’t appear to matter how long we spend outdoors, at least according to American Psychological Association anyway. However, we might not even need the real thing to reap some of the benefits. Schertz and Berman (2019) found that exposure to both simulated and real-world natural environments can improve performance in working memory, attentional-control tasks, and cognitive flexibility. 

 

I can certainly see how having access to green spaces can help, but it didn’t help me with my mental health growing up, but then I was subjected to relentless racial abuse throughout my childhood. However, having access to fields to play football and other things always gave us something to do and kept me in good physical health, at least.

 

The picture is split in two with the top image being of a young black woman sitting and leaning against a tree in he park in autumn. The bottom image being of a white woman with a prosthetic arm in running gear tying her shows in the middle of a park. The two images are separated by the article title - The Link Between Nature And Better Mental Health

 

Me And Nature

 

I’ve never really been one for nature, especially when you have to deal with insects. If you ask me to go on a nature walk with you, I’d definitely say no. However, since the pandemic started, I’ve found myself going for a walk in the local woods with my partner and their friend and having a mini picnic. I’ve also attended a gathering and picnic in a park with friends when the lockdown rules allowed us to, with another such gathering pending for next month with another set of friends. I’m also trying to arrange another gathering in a park with a different set of friends as well.

 

As such, I’m now the owner of a picnic blanket, which I highly recommend if you want to enjoy the outdoors with food and friends. The picnic blanket also helps keep ants and the like from having easy access to your food and stopping you from getting dirty. I also bought an insulated bottle so I can keep my drink cold. 

 

 

Due to the pandemic, I’ve never wanted a garden more than, to just have a nice private green space I could be in when we couldn’t even meet up with people would have been great. Existing in a single room for the length of the pandemic hasn’t been fun, just me and four walls to keep me company. I did create a graveyard terrarium during that time though, which you can see in some of the photos I took for my article ‘Give Your Inner Demons A Piece Of Your Mind‘, if you want to check my graveyard terrarium out. So that added a tiny bit of nature to my room.

 

What Can You Do With Nature For Your Mental Health?

 

So what can you do to get a dose of this nature wellness malarky? I hear you ask, hopefully. Well, there are a number of ways you can give yourself a nature experience for your wellness, which includes interactions with nature and perceptions of the natural world (Bratman et al., 2019). Using your senses, you can give yourself such experiences by looking out the window and taking in the nature you see, as well as looking at photos and videos of nature. So, why not take a moment now and look out of your nearest window and see what natural beauty you can see? It could be a bird on the house opposite you, flowers in a garden, or even the trees planted along the road, it’s all nature. 

 

To help get you connected to nature, Mind has provided a list of nature ideas you could try, from gardening, bringing plants into your home, star gazing, bird watching, and going on a litter picking walk, click here to find out more. The Mental Health Foundation also has some tips, which you can find by clicking here.

 

Where I’m currently volunteering, they’ve set up a nest watching channel to help us connect with nature more, but we weren’t the only ones watching nature through a webcam. According to the Mental Health Foundation, websites that had webcams showing footage of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%. So why not get out your phone and start taking some pictures of wildlife and nature, and you never know, maybe you’ll be entering wildlife photographer of the year someday.

 

You could journal about your nature experiences as well, and to aid in this, the Mental Health Foundation has created a free nature journal you can download. If you’re interested in getting your hands on this journal then you can visit their site to download it by clicking here.

 

However, as Cox et al., (2017) pointed out, access to nature isn’t going to be a magic bullet for all our mental wellbeing needs, but such access gives us a better chance of being more mentally resilient. However, it’s just another thing to add to our toolbox that could help with our mental health.

 

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The Nature Of City Life

 

I love city life, but often such urban environments lack access to green or even blue spaces. According to a study by Engemann, Pedersen, Arge, Tsirogiannis, Mortensen, and Svenning (2019), this could be having a negative impact on our mental health. The study in question was a nationwide study conducted on 943,027 Danish people between 1985-2003 who had to be living in Denmark on their 10th birthday. Using the data gathered during this study, they found that children who grew up with poor access to green spaces had a higher risk (55%) of developing a mental health condition, independent from other known risk factors like socioeconomic status. Therefore, access and the use of green spaces during child development can help protect against adult mental illnesses developing.

 

As the world’s urbanised areas grow, human contact with nature is declining, which means decisions need to be made now so that these urban developments and expansions factor in nature before so we can preserve and enhance opportunities for nature experiences (Bratman et al., 2019). It’s a lot easier to build green spaces as you build your buildings, rather than having to fit in nature after you’ve built them.

 

Furthermore, access to green spaces often depends on socioeconomic factors, such as housing prices and costs of rent, this might be a factor in why people in the UK who belong to the lowest 20% in household income are 2-3 times as likely to develop a mental health condition (Marmot et al., 2010). Therefore, to promote mental health and good quality of life, urban planning and policies would benefit from factoring in access to green spaces on the population’s mental health and wellbeing Engemann, Pedersen, Arge, Tsirogiannis, Mortensen, and Svenning (2019).

 

A study by Cox et al., (2017) found that even a low-level amounts of nature in a neighbourhood is associated with better mental health, meaning a reduction in poor mental health could be achieved with a minimum threshold of vegetation cover. Thus, if this bare minimum was applied to all urban areas, that would help give us back our connection to nature and improve our mental health outcomes.

 

Therefore, we should all be putting pressure on those who control our urban landscapes to incorporate nature and mental health into their designs, using the best available evidence to make the most informed decision that will affect us for decades to come (Bratman et al., (2019).

 

Past Mental Health Awareness Week’s

 

If you’d like to check out my previous Mental Health Awareness Week articles, then click the links below:

Body Image: An Overview For Mental Health Awareness Week – 2019

Mental Health: Painting A Picture Of The Issues With Statistics – 2019

Kindness Matters: Why It’s Good To Be Kind – 2020

 

As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with how nature affected your mental health and about wellbeing and nature in general in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget to bookmark my site and if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.

 

Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, then you can make a donation of any size below as well. Until next time, Unwanted Life readers.

 

 

 

References

 

Bratman, G. N., Anderson, C. B., Berman, M. G., Cochran, B., de Vries, S., Flanders, J., Folke, C., Frumkin, H., Gross, J. J., Hartig, T., Kahn Jr., P. H., Kuo, M., Lawler, J. J., Levin, P. S., Lindahl, T., Meyer-Lindenberg, A., Mitchell, R., Ouyang, Z.,  Roe, J., Scarlett, L., Smith, J. R., van den Bosch, M., Wheeler, B. W., White, M. P., Zheng, H., & Daily, G. C. (2019). Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science Advances, 5(7). Retrieved from https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903 and https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/advances/5/7/eaax0903.full.pdf.

Cox, D. T., Shanahan, D. F., Hudson, H. L., Plummer, K. E., Siriwardena, G. M., Fuller, R. A., Anderson, K., Hancock, S., & Gaston, K. J. (2017). Doses of neighborhood nature: the benefits for mental health of living with nature. BioScience67(2), 147-155. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biw173 and https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/2/147/2900179.

Engemann, E., Pedersen, C. B., Arge, L., Tsirogiannis, C., Mortensen, P. B., & Svenning, J. (2019). Residential green space in childhood is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(11) 5188-5193. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116 and https://www.pnas.org/content/116/11/5188.

Marmot, M., Allen, J., Goldblatt, P., Boyce, T., McNeish, D., Grady, M., & Geddes, I. (2010). Fair society, healthy lives: Strategic review of health inequalities in England post-2010. Retrieved from https://www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/fair-society-healthy-lives-full-report.pdf.

Schertz, K. E., & Berman, M. G. (2019). Understanding Nature and Its Cognitive Benefits. Current Directions in Psychological Science28(5), 496–502. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721419854100 and https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0963721419854100.

71 thoughts on “The Link Between Nature And Better Mental Health

  1. This was such an interesting article! I completely agree that nature can be a great tool for our mental health and also creativity. Same as you, I didn’t have an outdoor space to use during lockdown and really felt how useful and helpful it would have been. Luckily enough I have couple of parks around where i live so when it was possible a walk was possible. Thanks for sharing x

  2. What an interesting read. I do not suffer with any mental health issues but I, like everyone else, feel down days and periods of worry and lonliness. I can’t tell you how important time away from my laptop is. Even a ten minute walk around the block makes me feel instantly better

    Rosie

  3. This was a really interesting read. Getting outside in nature has been so critical for me during the pandemic. I forced myself to go for a walk every day, even in the dead of winter. As spring approached, I started some seeds indoors for my garden. Watching them grow has been really good for my mental health. I’ve even put some plants on my desk in my home office. If you can’t get outside in nature, you can always bring it indoors.

  4. This is great. I, too have recently been getting out in nature and have found positive benefits.

    I am fortunate enough to have a deck off thr back of my house and I try to eat my breakfast outside each morning at the very least.

    I appreciate all the info you shared here.

  5. I’m not as big on green spaces as some people, but I miss being around the water. I grew up on the coast, and the place where I live now is totally landlocked. I didn’t realize how much I took that time on the beach for granted until it was gone, and I’d give almost anything to have it back now. I am very fortunate that the city I live in values and protects parks and green spaces. You’re right, it is much harder to try and create them after buildings have gone up.

    Thank you for sharing this. I think nature is important, and spending time outdoors can be beneficial.

      • If nothing else this pandemic has highlighted there’s a lot more to life than the practice of the bright square pads we shove in our faces in between work and sleep. A practice that can have an undesirable effect on us.

        The pandemic has helped us appreciate nature and our surroundings. Forcing us to escape the confines of our four walls and explore.

        Suddenly being outside in fresh air is a luxury!

  6. I know I love nature and I believe connecting to nature is one way to work on mental stress. Learnt a lot from this even though I don’t live in the UK or have a garden. But I love nature!

  7. This post and your blog is so needed and helpful for those dealing with achieving a better state for their mental health. Thank you for the resources and placing a spotlight on mental health. Seeking the outdoors to aid in lifting someone’s mental state. This is helpful for people of all ages as I take my crew outside for attitude adjustments often.

  8. This is such a great and informative post. I always feel so much better when I am able to get outside for a good walk! Even just a short one always helps me!

  9. What an informative and well researched post, thank you. I think getting outside, and experiencing nature in some way, is one of those things that people often put off but once they’ve actually done it they are glad that they made the effort. I’m quite lucky in that I have a dog and that creates a need to get outside and walk about – fortunately we don;t have to walk far before enjoying the benefits of some lovely countryside.

  10. For about three years now, I’ve been practising solitary walks, seeing sunsets over hills, even taken a few photos, now I pay more attention to animal behaviours and to tell you one odd truth, I began to notice some patterns in them with coincide with those of humans, in all I’ve found profound peace. Great article.

  11. Informative article as always! I’m not so much into literally going into the woods too — I’m scared of a lot of things and insects are one of them. I’m also scared of those exotic and dangerous shrubs, mushrooms, or tiny animal creatures that lurk around and kill you instantly haha. Too much TV, I guess. But yes, I do agree, going for a walk or even looking at trees can do wonders for your mental health. Reconnecting back to nature is nice and effective. Thanks for sharing!

    http://www.lifebeginsattwenty.com

  12. What a great post. Your points are so well made with references. There is nothing better than a walk in nature or a visit to a quiet beach. Thanks for the read,

  13. I always love going outdoors. Especially when I can feel my anxiety and depression getting worse. I find that it helps me find balance again. I’m so happy that its getting warm here again so that I can get out there and enjoy it again. I really need it!

  14. Thank you for sharing this! I grew up basically living outside and was unprepared for the culture shock of living within the city and the use of electronics. I know for myself that should I spend to much time indoors – not even on the screen – my mental health is severely affected. Im blessed to have a small property and so it is easy for me to be outside and be busy

  15. Definitely where I live I saw way more people taking walks outside and going to the beach and just simply being out doors. I totally agree that nature does help with mental health.

  16. Nature really has a calming effect on us and our mental health. I noticed this when I got my dog and we started walking everyday together – this is really what got me through lockdowns!

  17. My aunt in Tucson, Arizona has a back yard where she has a small kitchen garden and plenty of desert growth. It is different kind of green to my Virginia mountains, but it is nature.
    My aunt in Melbourne, Australia lives in an apartment, but she has a small herb garden on her balcony. It offers a lovely view of the stars, and her city has many easily-accessible parks perfect for sunshine gamboling and picnics.
    I believe it is possible, no matter where you live, to find connection with birds, trees, and aquatic life, and I love the way you share creative ways for more urban-based people to bring a form of nature into their lives!
    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  18. Thank you for sharing. So relevant and true. I am blessed to live in the country and can attest a simple walk outside in green space can immediately lift my mood

  19. Yeah! Nature contributes to our mental health. That’s why it is important to have a nature related activity at least once a month. At least go for a brisk walk at the park. That’s good enough. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Another GREAT post! Nature is one of my ALL time favorite places to be. If I don’t get my daily dose of vitamin D, I feel icky. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful backyard in an urban/suburban city with tons of national parks, but one day soon I hope to have a little cabin on the outskirts of small town with an enormous garden! And the picnic basket suggestion is a great idea. What do you love about yours?

    • I don’t like small towns, not after my childhood, I couldn’t life anywhere without a good ethnic mix. My city has lot’s of green spaces and parks, although I was never really interested in them until the pandemic hit. I’d love my own garden though, but I don’t think that’ll ever happen

  21. It’s so interesting how your mental health can be so connected with nature. What about it can make people feel so much better? I’ve been gardening this year so I’m outside a lot which fun, but I also end up very, very tired. At least I can sleep well at the end of the night! Thanks for sharing x

    • I guess nature has a natural calming affect due to it’s colours, smells, and beauty, as well as being a relaxing still environment compared to the busyness of human life

  22. So much yes!!! Last year when I was at my lowest point, I still managed to get out because my furry four-legged roommate demanded it. I owe him a world of debt because I underestimated just how much I needed it.

    • Pets have been create for giving us a connection to nature during the pandemic, but it seems people are giving them up now that it’s almost over, which is such a shame

  23. Last year, during the lockdown here in Japan, I was able to get out a hour a day (because it wasn’t strict like other countries), and go to a secluded park. I still go out a lot, especially during work breaks, because it gives me a chance to clear my mind.

    • I also don’t have access to my own garden but luckily live a large public park with a lake and lots of room. It was a lifesaver during the lockdowns we had here. I also appreciated being able to go to the local pebbly beach for some sea air and having both those options did wonders for my mental health. Mental health is such an important topic for us to be open and honest about so thanks for sharing.

  24. I love your well-researched post so much! It is true that nature does make us feel better. I mean we live in nature since the beginning and just start living in city in a few centuries. I just visited a city which a lot of greenery and walking spaces and it made me feel so good!

  25. I live in a mid sized town it has lots of beautiful countryside around it but without a car it’s inaccessible. I recently bought a good bike so I can cycle to the oak woods just outside of town. It’s a little too far out to walk there and back. I find that when I don’t get good nature time I can’t sleep right and lose my appetite. So nature is important to be absorbed in my opinion.

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