May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to acknowledge the mental health issues we face as a nation. It’s also an important time to discuss the connections between nature and mental health, and why scenic conservation is a key step toward mental wellness.
How Does Nature Help Mental Health?
In our modern world, we are increasingly disconnected from nature. But reconnecting with the environment, in whatever way you can, has powerful effects on our mental well-being. Studies have shown that there are psychological benefits of being in nature, and that these benefits can come from nature in many forms.
Whether you’re spending time in remote wilderness, adding natural touches to your home or workspace, or otherwise experiencing green or blue spaces, that connection with nature will have a positive impact on your well-being. Here are some of the common benefits of nature on mental health.
Spending time in nature can help alleviate anxiety by promoting stress relief. Enjoying the outdoors lets you take a step back from your problems and any negative thoughts that are hounding you. It also provides a space for fresh thinking, improved creativity, and inspiration.
A study on nature experience found that “participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness.” Furthermore, forest environments have been shown to decrease the stress hormone cortisol, and to lower blood pressure and pulse rate.
It’s hard to identify exactly what it is about nature that boosts our mental health so universally. Yet interaction with nature, and even views of nature, have been shown to improve mood. A study of people on lockdown in Spain during the coronavirus pandemic found that “nature helped them to cope with lockdown measures; and emotions were more positive among individuals with accessible outdoor spaces and blue-green elements in their views.”
All these elements and more lead to an overall increase in well-being that comes from reconnecting with nature. A review of the literature surrounding these mental health benefits arrived at three consensus statements:
- Evidence supports an association between common types of nature experience and increased psychological well-being.
- Evidence supports an association between common types of nature experience and a reduction of risk factors and burden of some types of mental illness.
- Evidence suggests that opportunities for some types of nature experience are decreasing in quantity and quality for many people around the globe.
While nature is clearly beneficial to our mental health, it is clear that these natural experiences are also at risk. Efforts like tree conservation are crucial to support mental and environmental health.
Here at Scenic America, we’re working to preserve natural places and the Scenic Byways, landscapes, and towns that define our nation’s visual character. Read about our principles of conservation, see what we’ve accomplished in 2021, or sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on our work and how you can help.
Scenic America’s mission is to preserve and enhance the visual character and scenic beauty of America. Donate today to help us protect our beautiful places and the heart of our country’s character!