Did you go outside today? The answer may be “yes, of course! I walked to my mailbox or I took the dog out” but did you really go outside? Did you take a walk, ride your bike, or have a picnic for lunch? Did you read a book outside on the porch or spend some time planting flowers? As the weather gets warmer and nature gets greener, there’s never been a better time to enjoy the outdoors. According to the Forest Department of the USDA, there are many mental wellness benefits associated with being outside in green spaces, such as lower risk of depression and faster psychological stress recovery. Studies have shown that being in nature can restore and strengthen our mental capacities, increasing focus and attention.
“The physiological response to being outside in nature is real, and it’s measurable,” said Michelle Kondo, a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “There are many physical and psychological benefits of nature that scientists have observed, which can better help us understand how nature supports wellness in the body, mind and community.” (USDA). So not only does alone time outside benefit our mental health, the community and social connection aspects of spending time outdoors also contribute to mental wellness. Warm weather increases opportunities for talking with neighbors, attending outdoor events like markets or fairs, hosting barbecues or campfires, or even doing yard work as a family. The outdoors is the best venue to reconnect with your community and loved ones after a very long winter.
Communities benefit greatly from nature. According to a 2019 report by University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman, PhD, and his student Kathryn Schertz, green spaces near schools promote cognitive development in children and green views near children’s homes promote self-control behaviors (APA). Adults assigned to public housing units in neighborhoods with more green space showed better attentional functioning than those assigned to units with less access to natural environments. Planting trees or other natural vegetation in both vacant lots and high traffic areas can help lower a community’s noise or air pollution—overall improving collective mental wellness. Planning planting initiatives in your city or town is another great way to get connected and a great physical activity for all.
During this Mental Health Awareness Month, it is more beneficial than ever to seek out unique ways to feel better. Some examples of meaningful outdoor activities are: picking out and planting flowers or herbs with your family, hanging a tree swing, taking your dog for a walk, etc. If you live in an apartment or have a busy schedule, there are still ways you can incorporate time outdoors. Some examples that fit your location or schedule are: taking a walk around your community or complex, visiting parks in your city, parking further away from your place of work to get a walk in, taking lunch outside, etc.
Now that you are equipped with the knowledge of the strong correlation between being in nature and mental wellness, you can look for more opportunities to spend time outside. Whether alone or in a group, the “greener pastures” of mental wellness are waiting for you!