Nature and Depression: How the Outdoors Can Improve Our Mental Health

Nature and Depression: How the Outdoors Can Improve Our Mental Health

We as a society still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing depression, but a remedy may be—physically—closer to us than we may think. Let’s reflect on the restorative and empowering nature… of nature.

There is no community or culture that is immune to mental illness, particularly depression. It can affect people of different ages, genders, cultures, and ethnicities across the world. 

And, since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, isolation and separation have brought this so-called invisible monster closer to the surface than ever before in the United States.

But did you know of the natural form of remedy that has worked for Americans over generations? And it’s a remedy you have access to right now!

It is the simple act of going outdoors—into nature. Growing scientific research has only begun to reveal how exposure to the elements can aid in easing depression, promoting better physical and mental health, and even improving cognition.

Let’s talk about nature’s effect on the brain and why getting outdoors is not only beneficial, but essential.

Table of Contents: 

  • How Does Nature Help with Depression and Mental Health?
  • What Additional Mental Health Benefits Does Nature Have to Offer?
  • What are Nature Activities That Can Help Ease Depression?
  • Final Takeaway


How Does Nature Help with Depression and Mental Health?

a.c.e.-ing Nature—admiring, connecting with, and exploring the natural world—offers physical as well as mental and emotional health benefits.

Here are some of the well-researched ways that being outside in nature benefits us.

1. Nature Brings You into the Present Moment

Often, depression can begin or is compounded with anxiety about the past or the future. 

Dwelling in the past, or looking too far ahead into the future, takes away the experience and beauty of the present. 

Being in any kind of natural environment—as simple as slow walking, exercising, and riding a bike outdoors—helps you live in the moment. Being in a state of movement (such as engaging in physical activity) grounds you into the present. Being in the now is a powerful balm for the mind. Green spaces take us there, quickly and reliably, often helping us feel better afterwards.


2. Nature Helps with Seasonal Depression

Natural light is another benefit of being outside. We can’t overstate how good natural light is for us!

Too often, we are chained to a desk or our homes exposed only to artificial and electronic lights, especially during the pandemic.

Yet exposure to sunlight (whether it is bright or cloudy!) has been proven to benefit our circadian rhythms and promote better sleep, produce Vitamin D, and even boost our ability to focus.

Natural light can play a significant role in helping alleviate the pain of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is a form of depression that some may suffer during the winter months, when the days are short and sunlight in many parts of the world is scarce.

And it’s good news for people even in climates that may not have a whole lot of sunlight during certain seasons, because other elements in nature (trees, soil, animals, sounds, ambiance, and so on) make it worthwhile to still get some outside activity.


3. Nature is Good for the Senses

Studies have shown that urban green spaces (urban forests, city parks, etc.) offer multi-sensory experiences that, while helping all people, can be especially valuable to those struggling with depression. 

From the sounds of chirping birds to the smells of growing flowers, sensory information from nature has been known to improve the mood and put the mind at ease, in contrast to the noise generated in metropolitan jungles.

If we don’t get enough green in our everyday life, then it may be worth consciously seeking nature from time to time for the sake of our physical and mental well-being.


4. Nature Can Help Us Be More Social 

Depression can come about when we don't have a core group or community. Human beings are social animals that thrive in patterns and groups. Without social activities, loneliness can take a toll on our mental health.

A sense of belonging is one of our fundamental human needs, and nature offers a wonderful chance to forge friendships and find like-minded people to do physical and social activities with. In fact, the outdoors is perhaps the ideal environment for community outreach programs.

If you don’t have one already, consider joining a local meet-up group that encourages spending time outdoors. You have nothing to lose from finding other people that share your interests while also improving your earthly connection to nature.


What Additional Mental Health Benefits Does Nature Have to Offer?

So at this point you are already familiar with how nature can help improve mental health and combat depression. But it is not only physically being in nature that we can reap rewards from.

A 2013 study finds that those suffering from depression can already benefit from even seeking natural elements from indoors. 

Examples include: viewing greenery through your car window as you drive by; watching nature documentaries; painting lush plant life from photographs; playing sounds recorded from rainforests. (In fact, many people fall asleep to recordings of nature and animal sounds and have reported waking up feeling better than usual.)

While doing this means we lose out on some sensory benefits, it is still a leg up from not getting any form of nature entirely.


What are Nature Activities That Can Help Ease

girl open hands with nature
  1. Spending time outdoors 
  2. Biking or walking in nature
  3. Gardening 
  4. Nature-related art-making (photography, painting, etc.) 
  5. Picnicking 
  6. Volunteering
  7. Community service
  8. Camping 
  9. Bird-watching 
  10. Recreational sports 
  11. Hiking 
  12. Planting trees 
  13. Sunbathing


Final Takeaway

Nature is beautiful. But more than that, it is the most sustainable method of improving our health and regaining our sense of self and belonging, especially after recovering from an isolating pandemic.

a.c.e. Nature is committed to teaching and providing the benefits of being outdoors on a personal and community level, in an effort to encourage more people in the United States to care for our nature.

This is why we created a store for our readers to shop for clothing centered on all things nature. 

If you'd like to visit our store, you can do so here.

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