With the vast range of therapeutic tools and techniques at our disposal, mental health practitioners often overlook a key resource that has a multitude of mental, emotional and cognitive benefits, is generally accessible to most people, and doesn’t cost a thing: the great outdoors.
As humans become less connected with nature, we lose an essential health buffer. “There is mounting evidence that contact with nature has significant positive impacts on mental health,” said Mardie Townsend, PhD, an honorary professor at the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University in Australia.
“It is associated with reduced levels of stress — which also has huge ramifications for physical health, reduced levels of depression and anxiety, increased resilience, increased engagement with learning for children and adolescents otherwise disengaged from the education system, improved self-esteem and increased capacity to engage socially,” she told Psychiatry Advisor.
Such effects have been found for not only being immersed in nature — like in the woods or a park — but also for looking out the window at natural scenes and even simply looking at photos of them. One recent study,1 published in 2013 in Environmental Science & Technology, investigated the impact of different types of images on stress recovery. Participants viewed slides of scenes from either nature or a built environment for 10 minutes, and then they completed a task designed to induce mental stress.