As you embark on your recovery journey, it is important to know just how many resources are available to you. One of these resources is just outside your window: nature. Nature can have amazing mental health benefits, and as the season changes, it is the perfect time to find ways to incorporate nature into your routine. 

The Impact of Nature on Mental Wellness and Functioning

Nature has profoundly positive effects on people, so much so that simply being adjacent to it can provide benefits. Researchers studying the impact of green spaces on children found that being located near green areas at school and at home promotes cognitive development and self-control. Adults are similarly impacted by exposure to green areas, as living near green spaces promotes attention. 

Simply being exposed to the sights and sounds of nature can generate improvements in cognitive functioning. Study participants perform better on cognitive tasks when they are able to see images and hear sounds of nature. Performance on these same tasks diminishes when images and sounds are instead associated with urban environments. Urban environments are correlated with negative impacts on attention. This is concerning because the vast majority of people in the United States call an urban area their home. 

In addition to improving memory and attention, exposure to nature can also boost mood, reduce mental distress, and promote more positive interaction with other people. Studies suggest that this effect is so significant that children raised in areas with more nature have a decreased risk of developing severe psychiatric disorders later in life.

Why Is Nature So Important?

The benefits of nature are clearly showcased in research studies, however, you might be wondering where these benefits stem from. There are three current prevailing theories about why people derive so many advantages from natural spaces. One of these theories suggests that humans are drawn to nature because of our ancestry. 

The Evolution of Hunting and Gathering

Nature has always provided us sustenance and allowed us to survive and thrive. We are more removed from this reality now that we can purchase our food from grocery stores and restaurants and we live in built environments separated from the elements. It is important to remember that those who came before us had a much more intimate connection to the world around them as they relied on hunting and gathering to survive. Even though our daily lives look much different, that connection to nature may still be deeply rooted.

Reduces Stress

Another theory suggests that nature impacts us on a physiological level. Our levels of stress are diminished when we engage with nature, which helps us to experience better moods and increased focus. 

Increases Energy

A third notion posits that the benefits come from nature repleting the cognitive reserves that run dry in our daily lives. We are more equipped to have sustained attention because nature gives us that energy and capability. These theories are not mutually exclusive, and each may hold a piece of the puzzle.

Nature and Your Recovery

The best way to ensure your success in recovery is to work with a licensed clinician and commit to long-term treatment. While you are doing this it is also important to find other ways to support your overall wellness. Nature can be an important component of this. Being in natural environments can reduce stress, which can impact addiction recovery due to the link between stress and substance use. Stress creates the perfect breeding ground for addiction, so taking any opportunity to reduce stress can promote your sustained recovery, 

Furthermore, nature presents the opportunity for engaging in active pursuits like running, walking, and hiking. Exercise is a crucial element of overall health and wellness, both physically and mentally, and it is something we often do not get enough of. Staying healthy by exercising is another way to support your overall well-being and maintain on the road to recovery. 

Ideas for Spending Time in Nature

There are many ways to spend time in nature. Just because you may live in an urban environment does not mean that natural environments are off-limits to you. Fortunately, you do not have to go to the remote wilderness to experience the benefits of nature. In fact, it can be as simple as stepping out into your backyard or taking a walk through your neighborhood. 

Here are some other nature-oriented activities that you can try to include in your daily life:

  • Visit a park in your neighborhood
  • Take a walk or run through a nature preserve
  • Visit a local zoo or botanic garden
  • Step outside during breaks in your workday
  • Try to sit near a window or have nature imagery near your desk while working
  • Find local trails to hike or bike
  • Suggest outdoor activities when spending time with friends or family

It is the case that visiting natural areas with greater biodiversity, like national parks or reserves, seems to carry more benefits than solely engaging with natural environments in otherwise urban settings. Exposure to natural environments involving water might be especially beneficial. While incorporating as much nature into your day is good no matter where it comes from, seeking out these types of areas can further promote mental wellness. 

Recovery is challenging. There is no doubt about that. Fortunately, there are many things that can support your recovery that you might not even be aware of. One of these necessary yet extremely accessible resources is nature. The mental health benefits of nature and spending time in natural environments cannot be overstated. As you find the things that support your recovery, it is important to have a qualified team backing you up. Family-Centered Services is honored to work with you and your family and support you on this recovery journey. We offer a wide array of services tailored to your individual needs, including individual and family therapy and case management. Call (509) 991-5822 to get started today. 

Originally posted 2023-04-18 14:00:00.