St David's day, nature and our mental health
The freedom of outside
I was considering what to muse on when I realised, this week will mark St David’s day. My mum is Welsh and I have spent many happy holidays and visits in Wales. I smile as I recall walks in the Welsh mountains and around lakes. I just had to capture that joy in a watercolour illustration complete with daffodils.
Time in nature is such a good experience for me. Somehow it surprises me every time, by bringing more than I expect. And now I know scientific research evidences the positive effects for us of being in nature.
Being in nature improves mood and reduces feelings of stress
A national survey by Natural England of English adults on their engagement with the natural environment showed ‘our enthusiasm for spending time outdoors relaxing and unwinding, watching wildlife and enjoying the scenery as a way to keep healthy has markedly increased’. Respondents to the survey consistently agreed that being outdoors made them feel ‘calm and relaxed’. (1)
Participants, in a study from Sanford University, who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. (2)
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Essex and published by the mental health organization Mind found that taking a walk in nature reduced depression scores in 71 percent of participants. Researchers compared the effect with a control group who also took walk, but in a shopping centre. Only 45 percent of the shopping center walkers had reduced depression scores, while 22 percent of them actually felt more depressed. (3)
Being in nature helps you be in the present (Mindfulness)
The 5-4-3—2-1 tool is a common grounding technique for calming racing thoughts. I find being outdoors makes it easier for me to practice this.
In my EMDR therapy, I practiced going in my mind to my ‘Safe Space’ for me this was in nature. Unsurprisingly I painted the memory.
In difficult moments in therapy, I would imagine my time on that bench and the sensations that I had there. It was and still is a effective technique for me.
This week I will be doing a poll to choose my illustration of the month. All paid subscribers (just £5 a month) will be sent a signed 5 x 7” print of the illustration of the month on quality art paper. I will also draw 1 free subscriber to receive a print. Enter your email to subscribe and choose free or paid on the next page.
Being in nature boosts creativity
Improved creativity is another one of the many health benefits of nature. This seems so obvious. For centuries great poets, painters, and authors have been inspired by the outdoors. Again we now have evidence for what we instinctively know.
Researchers in Utah studied 56 people -- 30 men and 26 women -- with an average age of 28. They participated in four- to six-day wilderness hiking trips organized by the Outward Bound expedition school in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, and Washington state.
"We show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 percent," (4)
(2) Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation
(4) Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings
Do my musing and the evidence I share prompt you to get out in nature more?
I’d love to chat with you in the comments. Please share with me somewhere in nature you currently enjoy. And share your dream natural destination you’d love to explore. PS if you’re shy you can comment anonymously.