Research backs up what we’ve been told all along; fresh air, being outdoors and connecting with nature really is good for your physical and mental health.

Observations and studies from within the field of psychology show that mental health and wellbeing increases when people connect and engage with the larger world, outside of themselves. That is, when you extend yourself and your perceptions, beyond focusing on your needs, worries, regrets or desires for the future.

Benefits of being outdoors

Spending time in nature gives us an opportunity to become part of something bigger than ourselves. Whether that’s growing food, exercising outdoors, gardening or walking in the countryside, being in natural surroundings or green spaces can have many positive effects on our mental health and wellbeing including:

• Improving our mood
• Reducing stress hormones
• Gaining a sense of peace
• Improving concentration
• Boosting our immune system 
• Improving circulation
• Psychological restoration
• Aiding relaxation and sleep
• Improving confidence and self esteem

Why nature has a positive effect on our wellbeing

The reasons nature has this effect on us are still being understood. The benefits relate to how our senses connect us to the environment around us, from the shapes in nature we see to the scents that trees give off and the soft fascination that nature can stimulate which helps our minds rest.

Many of us live in fast paced urban areas which can be a sensory overload for our mind and body. Being in nature gives us an opportunity to reconnect with the natural rhythms of the world, enjoy a sense of space in which we can process our emotions and notice the natural ebb and flow of the seasons.

Time in nature can reduce our cortisol levels which is a hormone produced when we are under stress. Whilst cortisol has some beneficial properties, long term exposure to stress can mean that this hormone stays in the blood stream which has negative health implications including high blood pressure. 

Space to process lockdown emotions

Over the last year, we have been through a lengthy period of uncertainty and loss. As we ease out of lockdown, many of us may be experiencing feelings of anxiety and apprehension in terms of what the future holds. These are difficult emotions to navigate and process. The peace of the natural world can give us mental space to breathe and the opportunity to hear our own thoughts and process what we feel. Being physically immersed in nature can direct our attention back into the body and lessen the mental chatter of the mind. We may find our creativity and enjoyment of life resume once more.

The pandemic has meant that our days have been filled juggling competing demands with family, home schooling and the pressures of work taking up most of our time. The boundaries between home and working life have blurred and opportunities to do the activities we enjoyed reduced. Screen time has increased significantly with most of our interactions happening on some online platform. Whilst this has kept us connected, it has also meant that we are overtaxed, over stimulated and opportunities to decompress from all of this sensory overload are much needed. Nature provides an environment to decompress, calm the mind and gives us a sense of restoration and reconnection to the natural ebb and flow of life.

Prioritise getting outdoors

Going for a daily walk, breathing fresh air and feeling the sunshine or wind on your face may give you some mental space and a different perspective from which to view your most pressing concerns. The combination of being outdoors with physical activity and shared interactions with others can ease us back into the joys of human interaction and the pleasure we gain from being in the company of our loved ones.

Written by Kirsty Lilley, CABA’s Mental health specialist

If you would like to increase your time outdoors, but you’re not sure where to start try our ways to reach 10,000 steps a day, or gardening advice with how to grow a garden pharmacy.

For more advice, visit our mental wellbeing support page, which has information on how we can help you take care of your mental wellbeing and support the people around you. With self-help resources, interactive online tools, and professional, one-to-one services, there’s something for everyone.