How To use nature to reduce your anxiety

How To Use Nature To Reduce Your Anxiety Starting Today

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Outdoor enthusiasts will answer in a heartbeat “YES!” when you ask if being outside helps them unwind or relax.

However, can we go beyond the anecdote? What does the scientific literature say about nature and anxiety? And what steps can we take to start reaping the benefits?

Being immersed in nature doesn’t just lift your mood, but it can also help improve anxiety levels. And research has shown that hobbies can help treat depression.

This article will show just how beneficial nature can be to our mental health and provide six actionable tips so that you can get outdoors and boost your mood – today!

How To Use Nature To Reduce your Anxiety Starting Today
How To Use Nature To Reduce Your Anxiety Starting Today

What Research Tells Us About Nature and Anxiety

When you are feeling anxious, you’ve probably heard the classic cliché of “just walk it off” or “why don’t you go outside for a bit?”.

However unhelpful that guidance may seem at the time, it turns out that they have a point.

Let’s have a deeper look at some of the studies that were conducted to establish how nature can alleviate anxiety.

Researchers at the University of Essex have found that being immersed in natural settings is beneficial when it comes to both treating and preventing depression and anxiety.

They also found that being outdoors helps us develop healthy responses and recovery patterns, which support improved mental health.

These findings are further established by a Danish study that found a link between having access to residential green areas during childhood and lower risks of attaining psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Even something as simple as taking a walk outside can have significant effects on your mood.

In a recent study published in 2018, it was shown that walking through a bamboo forest for 15 minutes provided both psychical and mental health advantages.

Participants reported higher levels of elevated mood and less anxiety compared to urban control groups.

Moreover, the essential oils used for soothing anxiety are made of plants that you can find in nature. In fact, smelling flowers (such as lavender) has been shown to reduce anxiety in dental patients, according to a 2009 study.

Similar findings have been reproduced in an experiment where a group of young women reported lower scores of anxiety  and depression after walking through forest areas for 15 minutes.

There was also a campus forest-walking program where the participating students reported back a significant reduction in anxiety and depression after completing the intervention.

nature and anxiety
Courtesy, Unsplash.

Using VR Technology to Reduce Anxiety

All the previous research relied on the subjects being physically exposed to the actual outdoor environment if they want to experience the benefits of nature.

But what if I told you that some studies suggest that even the illusion of being outside is enough to trigger the mental response responsible for reducing anxiety?

According to a Swedish-Danish study, creating a forest setting using virtual technology along with some physical activity was successfully able to alleviate symptoms associated with anxiety – just like the real thing!

This is a clear suggestion that the mental health advantages of being immersed in nature is possible even if you’re not actually out in nature.

So, sometimes the impact of sight and sound is all that it takes for our brains to cooperate with our mental state.

The great part is, people suffering from seasonal depression and anxiety can have a huge sigh of relief knowing that they can (virtually) escape outdoors in a matter of seconds!

Restore your brain with nature. Courtesy, Tedx and YouTube.

A Practical Guide to Going Outside

Since we’ve established that going outside plays a beneficial role in reducing anxiety, it’s time for you to get outdoors!

It often seems difficult to incorporate outdoor life into their busy daily schedules. In my experience, it’s dramatically easier if you take it one step at a time.

Below I’ve laid out six simple steps to take your time in nature from zero to hero and reap the benefits.

1. Start at Home

The journey to getting in touch with nature starts right at home! Even the smallest changes can help you mentally prepare yourself for actually going out.

This includes very simple but effective changes, such as keeping more plants and foliage around your house as well as filling your backyard with the best that nature can offer.

Similarly, you can buy a good VR headset to enjoy instantly travelling to some of the most well regarded natural spots in the world.

2. Go on Small Outdoor Adventures

You’re rearing to go – great! But it’s best not to get overly excited and instead take baby steps. Start with small adventures that feel comfortable yet exciting. For example, you can have a picnic in a nearby local state park.

Also, if you’re a gym-goer, you can move your workout session to be in a park. Some parks even have free-to-use equipment.

3. Get Your Friends on Board

If getting into nature feels like a chore, then share the experience with others and turn it into a social occasion.

Bring your friends on board the next time you’re going out. This will encourage you to stay committed and you can hold each other accountable.

4. Decide on the Where, the What, the When

You should know that it’s perfectly okay to take your time before fully immersing yourself in nature. However, creating scheduled time in nature will help you stick to your goals.

This plan should include clear details about the locations (the where), the activities (the what), and a schedule (the when).

Planned outdoor trips are always safer, more fun, and help you to stay committed. While spontaneous trips can be wonderful, it’s easy to put them off and procrastinate.

5. Prepare for the Outdoors

When the time comes and you’re ready to hit the road, always make sure that you’re properly prepared for your grand adventure.

Firstly, you should always ensure you bring the ten essentials with you. These are vital to ensuring your safety on any outdoor adventure and include the basics such as shelter and flashlights.

Beyond this, you’ll want to think about other basic equipment and clothing such as footwear, tents, backpacks and perhaps even renting an RV for a longer trip.

Finally, there’s a few basics to know. Always ensure you adhere by fire safety guidelines when setting any campfires and you will want to take adequate precautions to keep yourself warm overnight if you live in a colder climate.

6. Challenge Yourself

While we all want to stay within our comfort zones, new challenges can also provide new opportunities.

Taking walks in the park or working out in your backyard is a great way to get started but nothing can replace the benefits from getting truly into nature. Instead, engage in a true outdoorsy experience by challenging yourself.

This includes going for a hike, a long solo camping trip (but always start with an experienced companion).

Not only that, but these challenges can also include exhilarating activities, such as rock climbing, kayaking, surfing, and maybe even skydiving!

These can have a positive impact on your general health and fitness – another anxiety killer.

Mental Health Benefits of Getting Outside. Courtesy, YouTube.

Wrapping Up

By now, the answer should be crystal clear. Does nature help with anxiety? Yes, definitely!

Being outdoors is a great way to boost your mood, lower stress, and alleviate symptoms of anxiety.

You don’t even have to leave your home to start experiencing the benefits. Something as simple as houseplants or a window view of green scenery is enough to start marking positive steps towards dealing with anxiety.

References

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About The Author
James Black, BA (Hons), MSc
James Black runs an outdoor research website – Wilderness Redefined. He is an academic based in the United Kingdom, with a Master of Science degree in Statistics and Economics. He aims to better understand the impact of outdoor activity through research and to promote engagement with nature in the general population.
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Reviewed for accuracy by Randy Withers, MA, NCC, LCMHC, LCAS. Licensed Therapist and Managing Editor of Blunt Therapy

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