Hargan Psychology

The healing power of nature for mental health

Many of us know from experience that time in nature makes us feel better; it can be restorative, relaxing and grounding. When we feel depressed and anxious, it can nudge us, even just a little bit, away from the extremes of those states.

This intuitive leaning towards nature is due to humans’ innate affinity for living systems, according to the ‘biophilia hypothesis’. In psychological terms, this is an attraction to all that is alive and vital; a subconsciously sought connection with the rest of life.

Considerable research exists in evidence for the multiple healing properties of nature for our mental health. Studies show that time in nature:

  • Restores our attention capacity after mental fatigue – particularly the attention system we use in work and learning. It has also been shown to improve the attention spans of children with ADHD;
  • Reduces stress levels and lowers production of stress hormones such as cortisol;
  • Reduces anxiety and its symptoms through lowering heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension;
  • Reduces depressive symptoms;
  • Activates neural pathways associated with empathy and love;
  • Provides distraction from pain and discomfort;
  • Increases creativity.

We don’t always have the time for extended trips to natural wonders. Nonetheless, whether it’s being a ‘plant mum’, walking the dog, lying on grass and watching the clouds, or hitting parks and beaches, it’s worth indulging your primal biophilia as part of your mental health care.

References:

  1. Berto, R. (2005). Exposure to restorative environments helps restore attention capacity. Journal of environmental psychology, 25, 249-259.
  1. Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature. Psychological Science19(12), 1207–1212. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x
  1. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing