Research shows that as little as five minutes of outdoor activity can boost our mental health, and these benefits seem most prominent in children and adults suffering from mental illnesses. How does being outdoors help us? Here are a few examples:
Sun exposure aids in the synthesis of vitamin D in our bodies. There is a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and depression. It is not entirely clear whether vitamin D deficiency results in depression, or whether depression increases the risk for low vitamin D levels. There are a high number of vitamin D receptors throughout the brain, though, suggesting that vitamin D may impact brain development and function.
Exposure to sunlight also helps relieve the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In one study, outdoor work was shown to be an effective therapy for people suffering with mood difficulties during the winter season in Denmark. If you can’t get a visa to go work outdoors in Denmark, however, you might just do as I did and go to a park locally. I imagine the forest service might even allow you to do some work while you are there.
If you are outdoors, chances are that you are getting more exercise than if you were indoors plopped in front of the TV or computer, and exercise is known to help with relief from depression. Now that computer devices are so portable, you can probably still park in front of a monitor even if you are outdoors, but at the very least you may have to squirm a little to swat an errant gnat or rearrange your position to get the sun’s glare off your screen. Hey, every little bit helps. At best, you may feel inspired to take a walk, go on a hike, or even climb Mt. Everest. Who knows?
And then there’s the concept of ecotherapy. According to the website ecotherapyheals.com, ecotherapy refers to “healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth,” and emphasizes “the critical fact that people are intimately connected with, embedded in, and inseparable from the rest of nature.”
In a nutshell: nature helps us heal. Environmentalists who encourage us to take care of nature are sometimes called tree huggers. Now the truth comes out: trees can hug us back. When we can get back into the synchronization and flow with nature that we were meant to experience, our mental health is benefited. Spending time outdoors and experiencing the natural cycles of daylight and seasons can help us regain balance, calm down and experience greater connectivity in our lives. For more information on ecotherapy, see ecotherapist Linda Buzell’s article Ecotherapy: Slowing Down to Nature's Pace.
Despite the overexposure to Willie Nelson, all in all my stay at the park was quite beneficial to my mental health. I hope you are in a place where you can get out and enjoy nature, if even for a short duration today. A final word of caution for those of you living in desert regions: do NOT hug the cacti. This would not promote calm.
Wishing you a great day,