Mental Health Benefits of Nature
Updated: May 23
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” - Genesis 1:31
Not everyone is a nature lover, but most of us would agree that there is something calming about looking at a tree gently blowing in the breeze, feeling the waves of an ocean crashing rhythmically against your toes, or listening to the steady rain of a passing storm. I know for me, I am most happy when I can spend time in God’s creation. And according to recent studies, I’m not alone!
According to a growing body of research, spending time in nature, viewing nature, and exercising in nature resulted in positive improvement of both physical and psychological symptoms. Researchers have studied how time in nature has resulted in lower levels of cortisol and adrenaline, as well as lower blood pressure (Williams, 2018). They have noted significant changes in neural activity in areas of the brain related to depression (Jordan, 2015). Time in creation has shown to improve mood, sleep, social interactions, and one’s sense of meaning in life (Douglas, 2021). Nature can also improve other cognitive functions like memory, creativity, and attention (Douglas, 2021). Studies have shown that anywhere from 90 -120 minutes of experiencing nature promotes health and well being overall (Bratman, 2015; White, 2019). It can even help with self-esteem; in fact, many studies showed that those with diagnosable mental illness experienced the most benefits (Barton, 2010). One journalist determined after interviewing many researchers over multiple years that there are 3 levels of benefit - immediate sensory input from natural spaces reducing stress levels and improving daily functioning; 5 hours a month promoting consistent wellness; and extended time in wilderness promoting healing for more intense suffering like those with PTSD (Williams, 2018).
And this is just a sampling of the research that exists! So, if you are struggling with contentment, attention, anxiety, grief, or any diagnosable mental illness, nature might just be the prescription you’ve been looking for! If you can’t get away for some long wilderness backpacking trip (or if that is just not your thing!), get started anywhere! Spend your lunch outside, go on a walk every day in a nature park, watch the sunset, or just look outside at a tree (instead of your phone) and practice deep breathing for 5 minutes. Creation was God’s gift to us to enjoy and delight in. Creation declares His glory, and I believe God created our minds and bodies to thrive among green spaces and wilderness. My encouragement for you today is to step outside, breathe in the fresh air, and rejoice in what He has made, for behold: it is very good.
Mikayla Bugh, LPC
References and recommended articles/books if you are interested in further research:
Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science & Technology, 44(10), 3947–3955. https://doi.org/10.1021/es903183r
Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(28), 8567–8572. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1510459112
Douglas, K., & Douglas, J. (2022, March 21). Green spaces aren't just for nature – they boost our mental health too. New Scientist. Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24933270-800-green-spaces-arent-just-for-nature-they-boost-our-mental-health-too/
Jordan, R. (2016, April 9). Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. Stanford News. Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/
Shin, W. S., Yeoun, P. S., Yoo, R. W., & Shin, C. S. (2009). Forest experience and psychological health benefits: The State of the art and future prospect in Korea. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 38–47. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-009-0114-9
White, M. P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J., Wheeler, B. W., Hartig, T., Warber, S. L., Bone, A., Depledge, M. H., & Fleming, L. E. (2019). Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and Wellbeing. Scientific Reports, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3
Williams, F. (2018). The nature fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative. W.W. Norton and Company.