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The Healing Power of Nature: How Time Spent Outdoors Can Improve Mental Health

Have you ever noticed how a simple walk in the park can lift your mood and make you feel better? Well, it turns out that spending time outdoors in nature can actually do wonders for your mental health.

In a world where we're constantly bombarded by screens and stress, taking a break to soak up some sun and fresh air can be a game changer. Here at Westmoreland Psychotherapy Associates, we understand the value of incorporating nature into mental health treatment. That's why we're lucky to be located right next to Duff Park, a beautiful outdoor space that our clients can visit before or after their therapy sessions to connect with nature and boost their mental well-being.

Whether it's going for a hike, tending to a garden, or simply sitting under a tree, time spent in nature has been shown to improve our mood, reduce stress, and even alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. In this article, we'll explore the healing power of nature and how spending time outdoors can improve your mental wellbeing. So, grab your hiking boots and let's dive in!

Time Outdoors and Mental Health

Spending time outdoors in nature has been found to have a profound impact on our mental wellbeing. One study found that just a 90-minute walk in nature can lower activity in the part of the brain associated with negative thoughts and self-criticism. Another study showed that people who spend more time in nature have lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress.

So, what is it about nature that makes it so good for our mental health? There are a few possible reasons.

  • Getting unplugged: Some researchers suggest that it's because being in nature allows us to disconnect from the constant stimulation of technology and urban environments, which can be overwhelming and stressful.

  • Promoting relaxation: Nature has a restorative effect on the brain, helping us to relax and rejuvenate. It's believed that spending time in nature can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and relaxation.

  • Good vibes: Spending time in nature can increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with mood regulation.

  • Improved sleep: Exposure to natural light and fresh air can improve sleep quality, which is essential for good mental health.

  • Movement: Physical activity outdoors releases endorphins, which can boost mood and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

  • Peace and calm: The sights and sounds of nature, such as bird song and rustling leaves, can have a calming effect on the mind and body.

  • Mindfulness: Spending time outdoors can provide a sense of awe and wonder, which can promote feelings of gratitude and positivity.

Forest Bathing: A Nature-Based Therapy

While any time spent in nature can be beneficial for mental health, one particular practice that has gained popularity in recent years is "forest bathing." Also known as shinrin-yoku, forest bathing originated in Japan and involves immersing oneself in the sights, sounds, and smells of a forest.

Studies have found that forest bathing can have a number of mental health benefits. For example, one study found that people who participated in a three-day forest therapy program had reduced levels of cortisol, improved mood, and increased feelings of awe and gratitude.

If you're interested in trying forest bathing for yourself, find a nearby forest or wooded area and take a slow, mindful walk. Focus on your senses and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. Try to leave behind distractions like your phone and let yourself be fully immersed in the experience. You might be surprised at how rejuvenated and refreshed you feel after your forest bathing session.

How to Incorporate Time Outdoors into Your Routine

If you’re ready to use time more outdoors, here are some ways you can incorporate it into your routine.

  • Plan outdoor activities: Whether it's a simple picnic in the park, an evening on the patio, or a more adventurous hike in the mountains, there are plenty of options to choose from based on your interests. By planning outdoor activities in advance, you can make sure to carve out time in your busy schedule to prioritize your mental health and well-being.

  • Make it a habit: Just like you would schedule time for a therapy appointment or exercise class, make sure to schedule time for nature in your calendar. This could be as simple as taking a walk in the park during your lunch break or going for a hike on the weekend.

  • Try something new: If you're feeling stuck in your routine, try exploring new and different outdoor activities. Maybe you've always wanted to try kayaking or rock climbing, or maybe you're interested in bird watching. Trying new activities can help you stay engaged and interested in spending time outdoors.

  • Practice mindfulness: When you're in nature, try to be fully present and mindful of your surroundings. This means paying attention to your senses and being aware of your thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness can help you fully engage in the experience and reap the mental health benefits of spending time in nature.

  • Find a nature buddy: Whether it's a friend, family member, or coworker, having someone to share the experience with can make it more fun and fulfilling. You can plan outdoor activities together, explore new natural areas, and encourage each other to make spending time in nature a regular part of your routine.

Get Help Improving Mental Health through Time Outdoors

At Westmoreland Psychotherapy Associates, we understand the importance of incorporating nature into our mental health practices. We believe that spending time in nature can be a powerful complement to traditional therapy practices in improving your mental health.

So, if you're looking to improve your mental health and incorporate more time outdoors into your routine, consider scheduling a therapy session with us. Our therapists are here to help you explore the healing power of nature and find a mental health routine that works for you. Contact us today to get started.

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