Can Nature Help Your Mood?

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Getting out less now you are working from home? Has the last year or so of the pandemic bought you down? Nature might be the answer if your moods are low.

Nature and psychology

The simple act of walking in nature has so many physical and psychological benefits that it’s a shame to pass it up.

A 2015 study discovered that people who took a 90-minute walk in nature had lower activity in the part of the brain connected to worrying than those who walked the same amount of time in an urban environment.

When people are depressed or under stress, their prefrontal cortex, where we worry and have loops of negative thoughts (called 'rumination'), doesn't work well. But the time in nature seemed to help.

The power of listening in

Researchers at Brighton and Sussex medical school discovered that listening to nature sounds can instantly improve the listener’s mental health state.

The study compared the mental health effects of listening to natural sounds as opposed to artificial sounds.

Natural sounds like ocean waves, bird songs, rain, wind, thunder, and so on caused the listener to have an outward-directed focus of attention and 'rest-digest' nervous system activity, which shows the body is relaxed. They also performed better in an attention task than those who listened to artificial sounds.

In fact listening to artificial sounds created an inward-directed focus that occurs during states of depression, anxiety, or PTSD. So nature wins again.

Note that the more stressed the participants were, the more they benefitted from listening to nature.

Nature and your mood in a group

A 2014 study showed that group walks were as beneficial for the participants’ mental health as solo walks.

When you are exploring the outdoors with a group of like-minded people, you’re more likely to talk about how the walk made you feel and share some of those positive emotions.

That said, don't now go pressure friends into a walk outside with the idea they'll feel better. A study at the University of Exeter found that you benefit more from visiting nature when it's your choice. When participants were pressured to visit nature they still felt anxious and unmotivated afterwards.

The added bonus of nature walking?

If you are a creative person, and feel good when you feel creative, then walking in nature is a win win as it's been found to boost creativity. A study at Stanford University found that walking boosts your creativity both during your walk and for a short while afterwards.

Time to treat yourself to time outdoors?

All in all, nature can boost your mental health and lower stress levels in the body, especially if this activity is done consistently and in groups.

So instead of curling up alone on a sofa and moaning about your unproductive week, put on your sneakers and head on to the nearest park for a walk.

Time to stop feeling so low and alone? Use our easy booking tool now to find a therapist and talk your way to feeling better.

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