Connections between mental health and the natural world
Urbanization is a reality of modern life, and many people feel that their connection to nature – green growing things, animals, trees, the stars, the wind, the ocean and the mountains – has been disrupted, or has simply vanished. Mental illness is another reality of modern life that shows some correlation to urbanization. Researchers speculate that restoring the connection to nature may improve some symptoms of mental illness, especially depression.
Many people intuitively feel that exposure to nature and the outdoors makes them calmer and more focused, and a recent study gives support to that observation. Specifically, researchers were interested to study the link between exposure to green spaces and reduced rumination, or repetitive and self-referential thinking. They studied volunteers who took a 90-minute walk through two different areas: one natural and one urban.
The authors write: “Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.”
These results also suggest that adding a nature routine will be a great help in managing mood and living more creatively. Getting outside and among trees, grass and flowers can give anyone a boost, reduce the risk of depressive episodes, and help stop repetitive and self-referential thought patterns.
Research about mental illness and nature
Another available resource is a National Geographic article that investigates the natural world-mental wellness link in countries around the world. From Utah to Virginia, from Sweden and Finland to South Korea and Japan, study and practice shows the importance of maintaining contact with the natural world for our mental health and wellness.
From the National Geographic article: “Japanese researchers led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki at Chiba University sent 84 subjects to stroll in seven different forests, while the same number of volunteers walked around city centers. The forest walkers hit a relaxation jackpot: overall, they showed a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate. Miyazaki believes our bodies relax in pleasant, natural surroundings because they evolved there. Our senses are adapted to interpret in- formation about plants and streams, he says, not traffic and high-rises.”
We hate to advise people not to read Moodsurfing, but maybe it’s time to turn off your computer and get outside!
Gregory N. Bratman, J. Paul Hamilton, Kevin S. Hahn, Gretchen C. Daily, and James J. Gross. Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation PNAS 2015 112 (28) 8567-8572. doi:10.1073/pnas.1510459112
Florence Williams. This is your brain on nature. Natural Geographic Magazine. Jan. 2016. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/