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The Healing Power of Nature

Last updated: May 5, 2023

Being out in nature allows us to focus on things outside of ourselves and be more mindful and present in the moment. It provides respite for an overactive mind, which we all experience at times in today’s hustle-and-bustle society.

Ashley Bartha, Mental Health Clinician, ThedaCare Behavioral Health

If you’re feeling blue or anxious, getting outside and listening to the birds chirp or taking a restorative stroll may help ground and give you peace. Whether you’re simply having a rough day, or you’re going through longer-term mental health struggles, immersing yourself in nature offers benefits.

“What’s key is the connection to nature, the experience of feeling part of something greater than yourself, and the tactile experience of touching things,” says Ashley Bartha, a Mental Health Clinician at ThedaCare Behavioral Health Walk-In Care-Neenah.

Research suggests that spending time in nature can improve attention, lower stress, boost mood, reduce risk of psychiatric disorders, and even lead to upticks in empathy and cooperation. Experts recommend spending at least 120 minutes per week outside to reap maximum benefits.

“Humans are curious,” Bartha says. “Being out in nature allows us to focus on things outside of ourselves and be more mindful and present in the moment. It provides respite for an overactive mind, which we all experience at times in today’s hustle-and-bustle society.”

Creating a Fresh Frame

Being in an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel anxious or depressed, Bartha says.

“Those are the kind of feelings that could negatively impact mental health,” Bartha says. “On the flipside, being in a pleasant environment can positively impact mental health and physical well-being. This can help reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.”

Research also indicates that simply surrounding yourself with elements of nature can offer benefits, Bartha says. This could include having plants or images of nature in your home or office, watching nature programs or videos, gardening, or raising plants in pots on your balcony or windowsill.

If you don’t have convenient access to the outdoors, you can look for those alternative ways to experience that connection and to “stimulate the right receptors to release the serotonin that can make you feel happy,” Bartha says.

“With spring arriving and May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s an ideal time for all of us to seek out ways to include more connections with nature in our lives,” Bartha says.

You’re Not Alone

Mental health struggles can involve changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these), Bartha says. This can lead to distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.

“What’s important for everyone to understand is that experiencing mental health struggles is not uncommon,” Bartha says. “It can be easy to feel alone and think that no one understands what you’re going through. That’s not true. Many others have had similar experiences and will understand.”

Major life changes can lead to mental health struggles. This can include job changes, the ending of a relationship, or the serious illness or death of a family member or friend.

Depression, lack of support and anxiety surrounding the unknown are common mental health concerns that anyone can experience at difficult times, Bartha says. Other mental health challenges can follow you throughout your whole life, and most are treatable. Mental health conditions are medical issues, just like heart disease or diabetes.

“When thoughts or feelings prevent you from coping with everyday life, then it’s time to seek some professional assistance,” Bartha says. “And we want our communities to know our care teams are here to help.”

Mental health help is within reach.

Learn about all the services offered through ThedaCare Behavioral Health

Tags: behavioral health Mental Health Mental Health Awareness Month nature outdoors

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