Nature and Our Mental Health

By Susan Antoine, Head of HR

‘There is something to be wondered at in all of Nature’ – Aristotle

During the long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature, with going for a walk becoming one of the top coping strategies. It was not just that we were spending more time in nature but that we were noticing it more and rediscovering how valuable the connection with nature is in our lives.

Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

Our Brain and Nature

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.

It’s not clear exactly why outdoor excursions have such a positive mental effect. Yet, in a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.

Digging a bit deeper, it appears that interacting with natural spaces offers other therapeutic benefits. For instance, calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response.

Your time with nature could be something as simple as a daily walk and the type of nature setting doesn’t matter either as it’s about focusing on places that you find the most pleasing.

During Mental Health Awareness Week (10th – 16th May) why not experience nature, share nature and talk about nature by sharing your stories of how nature has supported your mental health. This might be as simple as tending to a house plant, listening to birds, hugging a tree, smelling flowers, sharing your favourite nature spot picture, poem or music.

Whatever it is for you, we invite you to connect with nature and share what this means for you.