2 days ago
Nature is God’s Gift to our Mental Health
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but activities that promote mental health should be incorporated into our daily lives year-round. If we do small things every day to help process life’s challenges, our mental health can become stronger, similar to enjoying better physical health by exercising daily.
As we begin a new semester and take on all that comes our way, let’s remember to care for our minds and spirits. It’s easy to push self-care down to the bottom of our to-do list when we’re overwhelmed with responsibilities. The good news is that achieving better overall mental health can start with very easy obtainable goals that don’t stress us out even more with yet another thing to do.
The first step to better mental health can be as simple as getting outside to spend time in nature.
How Does Nature Help Mental Health?
The American Heart Association and countless other reputable organizations cite the correlation of better mental health to nature. Spending time outside every day can reduce anxiety and stress, decrease fatigue, and help increase focus.
Studies show exposure to nature, specifically green spaces, helps lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol, which is a stress hormone. The calming effects of being outside boosts endorphin levels and dopamine production, which promotes happiness.
Think of the elevated feeling you have after exercise, laughing with your friends, or listening to good music. Those feelings of joy and energy are thanks to dopamine, and this same chemical in our brains is produced when we step outside, whether we realize it or not.
You might think you’re not a nature person, but all it takes is a brief break away from your screen to step outside to clear your mind. A study that followed nearly 20,000 participants found that enjoying nature for about 20 minutes a day can have noticeable effects on our wellbeing. You can sit, walk or run in nature—the benefits come with the simple act of being immersed in it. (Although, of course, movement creates even more dopamine.)
The Japanese culture understands and embraces the importance of nature for positive mental health benefits. They even have a name for it: “forest bathing.” Not to worry, the bathing is not an actual bath outdoors. It simply means surrounding yourself in nature and taking it all in to take a moment to relax and be present in this moment instead of worrying about your to-do list. It can also be viewed as an invitation for you to sit with God and simply listen and absorb the world around you as you hear, see, smell, and experience the uplifting power of nature.
Where Can You Start?
Nature is literally everywhere, but if you want to try your hand at a forest bathing experience, try starting at Hills & Dales park, a part of the Dayton MetroParks system. Whether you want to hike or simply sit in nature, this is a great nature-filled park that is close to our campus.
If spending time in nature is not currently part of your daily regimen, start with small goals. Can you get outside today for five minutes? Can you increase that by two more minutes tomorrow? Soon your brain will start to react positively, and you’ll most likely start craving more time in nature and feeling less stressed with a boost of creativity and energy.
We all have stress, but how we react to it is the key component to improving mental health. Nature and all its beauty has a way of breathing new life and gratitude into us, reminding us that yes, life is stressful, but when we pause to process it in fresh air, we walk away with the strength to face it.