Amongst all the angst of reducing the spread of the coronavirus and working from home while homeschooling your children of any age, many of us are looking for a simple way to help reduce stress, anxiety, and ward off depression. The simple answer? Take a walk outside!
Ecotherapy and the 5 Senses
According to Harvard Publishing, research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has demonstrated a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. These studies show that interacting with natural spaces through any and/or all five senses offers therapeutic benefits. For some examples, see below:
Sound: calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response
Touch: data shows how being touched and moving your body helps reduce depression – the wind in your hair, the feel of grass after a long winter, the kiss of sun on your back, the crunch of leaves under your feet
Sight: focusing on the beauty of trees, greenery, wildlife and other aspects of nature helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so you are filled with less worry
Taste: there has been much research on the correlation of taste and feelings – fresh food from nature, like fresh fruit and vegetables, calls forth positivity and heightens your mood
Smell: is the most nostalgic of our senses, often brining us right to our emotions – simply taking slow deep breaths of fresh air can produce a sense of ease
Benefits of Nature to Mental Health
Bringing nature into your everyday life in these ways can benefit both your mental and physical well-being. It has shown to:
- improve your mood
- reduce feelings of stress or anger
- help you clear your mind and direct your focus
- help you feel more relaxed
- improve your physical health
- improve your self-esteem
- help you be more active
The exact destination does not matter, the idea is just to leave behind the indoor or urban setting and get in touch with nature in some capacity. This could simply mean walking into your own backyard or sitting on your balcony.
The timeframe also doesn’t matter. Of course, the more fresh air you can get, the more beneficial it will be. But be realistic – many of us are working from home full time while either homeschooling or caring for more than one child. Often times, dedicating your lunch break and/or 1-2 fifteen minute work breaks would have a significant positive impact on the factors above.
If you do have children or pets at home, be sure to take them outside with you. Engage your senses and let your mind take a break.
Bringing Outdoors Inside
If you or your loved one don’t have access to the outdoors, you can bring the outdoors inside! Several studies have found that simply having a glimpse of nature from a window or even photographs can improve someone’s overall mood, mental health, and life satisfaction.
Ways to bring the outdoors inside
- Listen to nature sounds
- Sit by a window, open it if you can
- Water your plants or plant new indoor plants
- Look at photos of your favorite outdoor space
- Write down all the things you love about the outdoors
- Open a horticulture book and learn something new about nature
So make an effort to bring the outdoors into your life today and every day, for whatever amount of time you can spare.