Bad mood? It’s time for nature!
“Many people are at risk of mood disorders with age. They are faced with sudden changes in life: health problems, loss of loved ones and retirement, ”explains Dr. Jason Strauss, chief specialist in geriatric psychiatry at the Cambridge Health Alliance. “Not everyone is ready to seek the help of therapists and drink medicine, so for many people, interacting with nature is one of the best self-regulation tools available.”
Our brain and nature
Research in the field of ecotherapy shows a close relationship between time spent in nature and a reduction in stress, anxiety and depression. It is not yet clear why walks give such a positive psychological effect.
In a 2015 study, scientists compared the brain activity of healthy people after walking for an hour and a half in nature and in the city. They found that after a walk in nature, the subjects decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that activates when obsessive thoughts appear, accompanied by anxiety and negative emotions. “When a person has depression or a high level of stress, malfunctions occur in the work of this part of the brain, and wandering around a vicious circle of negative thoughts begins,” Strauss explains.
With a deeper study, it became clear that interaction with nature provides other therapeutic benefits. For example, soothing sounds from nature and even silence can lower blood pressure and the level of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, according to Jason Strauss, “the ability to focus on the pleasant: for example, on trees and greenery – helps to distract our mind from negative thoughts, and anxiety gradually leaves us.”
Let nature into the house
And what if there is no opportunity to take a walk in the fresh air? It turns out that listening to the sounds of nature can give a similar effect. This assumption was made in a scientific report published in 2017 on the Scientific Reports website. The researchers used an MRI scanner to measure brain activity in people while listening to sounds recorded in natural and artificial environments.
When listening to natural sounds, the focus of attention shifted outward – as it happens during a day’s rest, if, for example, we dream. Listening to artificial sounds directs the focus of attention inward – this happens during states of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Even viewing photos with beautiful landscapes and favorite places can have a beneficial effect.
Find your place
How much time spent in nature will be enough? “Any period will be beneficial – from 20-30 minutes three days a week to three-day trips to the forest on holidays,” says Dr. Strauss. “The point is to make interaction with the natural environment part of a normal lifestyle.”
The format can also vary: from a daily walk in the park to a Saturday outing into the dense forest. “You can combine outdoor walks with regular exercise, such as strength training, or cycling,” Strauss recommends.
Park, forest, field or seashore – the landscape also does not matter. “Focus on the places you like the most. The goal is to get away from urban conditions stimulating the psyche and surround yourself with the natural environment. ”
And it is not at all necessary to do it alone. A study conducted in 2014 showed that from the point of view of reducing depression, stress and improving the general mental state, group attacks on nature are as effective as single ones.
The researchers noted that for people after recently experienced stress (serious illness, job loss, death of a loved one) group walks were most effective. Dr. Strauss is convinced: “Nature can have a strong influence on our mental state, and we have many ways to take this opportunity.”