Episode 21 – ‘The Power Of Nature’

18 October 2022

Research has proved that taking a walk outside will help the brain produce endorphins, which are neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood. Both being outside and walking can work together to create positive changes in overall state of mind. 

Spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. If you don’t have to go outside, you’re likely to become more sedentary, meaning you’ll exercise less. And research has shown that even a short 12-minute walk can reduce symptoms of depression and help you cope with stress. This could be worse if you live by yourself. 

What else are they missing?  

How can nature benefit my mental health? 

Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. For example, doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have lots of positive effects. It can: 

  • improve your mood 
  • reduce feelings of stress or anger 
  • help you take time out and feel more relaxed 
  • improve your physical health 
  • improve your confidence and self-esteem 
  • help you be more active 
  • help you meet and get to know new people 
  • connect you to your local community 
  • reduce loneliness 
  • help you feel more connected to nature 
  • provide peer support 

We all have different experiences of nature, and different reasons for wanting to connect with it more.  

Nature and mental health problems 

Spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. For example, research into ecotherapy (a type of formal treatment which involves doing activities outside in nature) has shown it can help with mild to moderate depression. This might be due to combining regular physical activity and social contact with being outside in nature. 

Being outside in natural light can be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year. And people tell us that getting into nature has helped them with many other types of mental health problems

Anxieties about climate change can also have a big impact on our wellbeing. If climate change is affecting your mental health, spending time connecting to nature may be helpful. You could also get involved with conservation activities or campaigns to protect the environment. I love a bit of litter picking!

1.Getting Fresh Air 

Getting fresh air allegedly helps a person feel better. However, not many people know what getting fresh air does for the brain. Oxygen is absolutely essential in maintaining healthy brain function, growth, and healing. In fact, the brain uses about three times as much oxygen for healthy neuron function, as muscles do. The brain is extremely sensitive to decreases in oxygen levels. Therefore when a person takes a walk outside, getting to breathe fresh outdoor air actually improves brain function, especially if a person is cooped up in an office most of the day. A great suggestion for better work performance is to take a walk outside of the office during breaks!

2.Improved Concentration 

Spending time outdoors with natural scenery has actually been proven to improve brain function such as concentration. In fact, one study took a group of children with ADHD and compared how well they performed after they were split into two groups. One of the groups spent the majority of the time after school and on weekends in outdoor green spaces, and the other group spent most of their time playing indoors. The group playing outside showed fewer symptoms of ADHD than their counterparts, even while performing the same tasks.

3.Increased Vitamin D 

When out in sunlight, a person’s skin synthesises vitamin D, an essential nutrient for healthy brain function. Vitamin D actually protects the neurons in the brain and reduces inflammation. There have also been connections drawn between vitamin D and neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth. All of these are essential to our daily functioning, and therefore vitamin D is extremely important, yet vitamin D deficiency continues to become more common each year. Getting out into the sunlight will give you some of the vitamin D you need. Again, even if you can get out for only ten minutes, it’s still worth it! 

4.Stress Reduction 

So many people are working inside of a building all day, getting stressed out by a variety of factors in their workplace. Going outside can help reduce this stress. Scientists have discovered physiological evidence that suggests spending time in nature reduces stress, such as observed lowered heart rates and less time spent thinking about problems and/or insecurities. Furthermore, taking a walk outside will help the brain produce endorphins, which are neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood. Both being outside and walking can work together to create positive changes in overall state of mind. 

I want to come back to SAD, and just highlight some of the warning signs.

 

What are the signs and symptoms of SAD? 

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day. 
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed. 
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight. 
  • Having problems with sleep. 
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated. 
  • Having low energy. 
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless. 
  • Having difficulty concentrating. 

 

It may take some time before you and a GP realise that your symptoms are forming a regular pattern. A diagnosis of SAD can usually be confirmed if: your depression occurs at a similar time each year for at least 2 years. The periods of depression are followed by periods without depression. 

 

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