You may know that mental and physical health are connected to some degree, but it’s easy to forget just how much they intersect with one another. If you’re a nature lover or someone who has an interest in outdoor activities, you’re in luck: Spending time outdoors is proven to positively impact both your mental and physical health in a number of ways, some of which may surprise you. So, how do mental and physical health intersect, and what are the mental and physical health benefits of spending time outdoors?
If your mental health is suffering, your body might be suffering, too. Stress, for example, is something that everyone experiences. However, stress can negatively impact both your body and mind, particularly if it’s prolonged or ongoing. Consequences of stress may include nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches, body aches, trouble sleeping, muscle tension, high blood pressure, a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and even higher risk of anxiety and depression. Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression also come with physical symptoms in many cases, including G.I. distress, aches and pains, fatigue, and insomnia or hypersomnia. Emotional suppression has mental and physical health consequences, so if you have a tendency to push your feelings aside or ignore your emotional well-being, it’s unlikely to come without repercussions. The same is true for overworking or job-related stress, which is, unfortunately, a pervasive, common problem that is sometimes unavoidable. Spending time outdoors is a way to support both your physical and mental well-being, and although it can’t necessarily do it all, in conjunction with social support, therapy, self-care, and other ways of caring for your social, psychological, and emotional health, it’s an excellent way to care for yourself.
It promotes stress relief and relaxation. Being in nature is cathartic, and research indicates that even as few as ten minutes outside can lower stress and increase happiness. Research also shows that time in nature can help to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.
While it isn’t a replacement for treatment, time outdoors can decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety in some individuals. Research says that it can supplement treatment, and many people find time in nature vital for managing their mental health.
It often provides an opportunity for exercise. Many outdoor activities – whether that’s mowing the lawn, taking a hike, going for a walk, playing a sport, or gardening – get your body moving. Exercise has a number of known potential mental and physical health benefits, including improved heart health, better sleep, and a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It promotes productivity. Research indicates that exposure to nature can support concentration and productivity substantially. One study found that just 29 minutes of time spent in the fresh air increased productivity by 45%. Another found that bringing nature into the workplace increased productivity, concentration, and workplace satisfaction.
It’s an opportunity to take a break from technology. While technology provides so many advantages to the modern world, too much can lead to eye strain, feelings of depression, and more. Nature gives you an opportunity to get away, give your eyes a rest, and recenter yourself.
It gives you a chance to connect with others. In addition to giving you an opportunity to set your electronics to the side, many outdoor activities promote togetherness. If you want to spend more time with loved ones and make memories, outdoor activities are a great way to do it. Of course, it can also give you necessary alone time if you opt for a solo activity such as a walk or gardening alone.
Some research even shows that time in nature can support memory and improve your tolerance for physical pain. Of course, there’s also the factor of simple enjoyment, which is indeed important. In a culture where it’s tough to slow down, having healthy hobbies you enjoy matters. All of that said, nothing can replace the support of a mental health professional when you need it. Whether you’re facing stress, trouble in interpersonal relationships, familial issues, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, or something else that’s taking a toll on your emotional, social, and psychological well-being, a mental health professional such as a counselor or therapist can help.
If you’re not sure how to find a therapist or counselor, there are a number of routes you can take. To find a therapist, you can ask your primary care physician for a referral, contact your insurance company to see who they cover, search the web, use an online therapist directory, utilize an employee assistance program or other similar services available to you, or sign up for a reputable online therapy platform like BetterHelp. All of the providers at BetterHelp are licensed, and online therapy is often more affordable than traditional in-person counseling or therapy is in the absence of insurance. When you sign up for BetterHelp, you’ll get matched with someone who is licensed to work with individuals in your area, making it easier to find the right fit. You can also stop services or switch providers at any time. Regardless of how you find a therapist, you deserve to get the support you need, so don’t hesitate to start the process and find a provider today.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.