Sometimes things are trite because they are true. Getting outside for the betterment of your mental health feels like an oversimplification of a complex issue. Still, the research shows that spending time in nature can in fact help our mental health in a number of ways, including:
Increased Positive Affect
Increased Happiness and Subjective Well Being
Positive Social Interactions, Cohesion, and Engagement
A Sense of Meaning and Purpose in Life
Improved Management of Life Tasks
Decreased Mental Distress
Improved Cognitive Functioning
Bratman, G. et. Al. (2019) Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science Advances, Vol. 5, Issue 7
So, is getting outside going to cure chronic depression or relationship issues? No. However, it is an essential part of your mental wellness. In addition to therapy, medication, nutrition, and interpersonal support, getting outside is a tool to increase your emotional capacity so you have the mental space to be able to deal with the bigger issues.
In this blog series we are going to look at 5 ways to engage in the outdoors – Slowing Down, Getting Active, Being Observant, Getting Creative, and Introspection. Today we are going to start with Slowing Down.
There is so much to do and see in nature. While we often think about the outdoors as a place to "be active", it is also a place of rest and reprieve. Nature is the ultimate setting to practice mindfulness (being present in the moment) and meditation (using the space around you as a tool to focus and reflect).
Slowing down in nature can look like:
taking a leisurely stroll and stopping to take in your surroundings
laying out a blanket to relax, eat, or read
enjoying a hammock
sitting by a campfire
spending time on your patio/balcony/porch
While you are resting outside you can also further put your mind and body at ease by using your senses to be more present in the moment.
Slowing Down in Nature with Sense Mindfulness
You can choose an object around you or simply take in your environment. Move through your senses slowly and intentionally. The point is not to rush through but to slow down and ground yourself in the present moment. For this example, imaging choosing a blade of grass.
What do you see?
Notice the color of the grass, the shape, the length. Notice how pointy or dull the tip of the blade of grass is. Notice the vein running down the middle.
What do you hear?
In this example, you will likely not hear one blade of grass. Try running your hand across the grass nearby. Listen carefully - notice the whooshing or squeaking or rustling.
What do you feel?
Notice the smoothness of the individual blade. How does it feel different to run your hand across the nearby grass versus up and down the individual blade?
What do you smell?
Breath in deeply, filling your lungs with air and then exhaling slowly. As you breath in, notice the scent of the grass. Has it been freshly mowed? Is it in a wooded area or the neighborhood? Does that change the scent?
This week, try slowing down outside with sense mindfulness. Notice how you feel before, during, and after. It may feel unnatural or awkward at first. That's okay. The more you practice the more impactful the exercise can be. Over the next few days or weeks that you attempt sense mindfulness, keep track of your mood and mental clarity to see how getting outside is helping you.