Improving Mental Health with the Outdoors

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Over the past couple of years people have started self-isolating, whether due to fear of the pandemic or due to stress from work, family, life, or other issues. Self-isolation causes a disruption in a person’s social life which may lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

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Spending time outdoors is a calming and healthy experience. Sitting in a meadow, stargazing, or simply going on a hike can provide a person with a sense of tranquility that helps ease stress and anxiety. The outdoors provides your mind and body many benefits that you can’t get when spending a lot of time indoors.

Countless benefits abound from being outdoors, which is why everyone needs to take some time to experience nature. People suffering from mental health issues can benefit by spending time outdoors because it gives them a new outlet for self-discovery. Spending time outdoors won’t cure all mental health problems but making the effort to take the time to get outside offers some important benefits for those who are having problems.

Boost Mood

You cannot replicate the benefits of the outdoors when spending time indoors. Direct sunlight and fresh air are two of these key elements, and both offer many benefits for your mental health. Exposure to natural sunlight improves your mood and self-esteem. Studies have shown that people have higher levels of serotonin on sunny days, regardless of the outdoor temperature. Serotonin is the body’s natural mood stabilizer that helps reduce depression while in turn boosting your mood. When receiving direct sunlight to your skin the melanocyte cells that produce skin pigment release endorphins that give people a sense of happiness. Getting just 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight a day can greatly help with depression and anxiety by boosting your mood.

Reduce stress

According to a recent Gallup poll, the U.S. is one of the most stressed countries in the world with 55% of Americans reporting feeling stress daily. Many different factors lead to increased levels of stress creating problems like depression.

Spending 30 minutes a day outdoors has proven to reduce stress. A great way to be active while getting outside for some vitamin D is gardening. When gardening your mind focuses on the task at hand and you are getting sunlight to help ease stress. Being outdoors, even for a short time, reduces cortisol levels, the chemical that causes stress.

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Fight depression

Spending time outdoors has shown to help reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that interacting with nature is a proven way to boost cognition for people suffering from depression. Individuals struggling with mental illness saw increases in self-esteem and a reduction in depression symptoms.

Ecotherapy is another form of treatment that involves exercising and doing normal activities outdoors. It is a proven method to help with mild cases of depression and helps ease anxiety.

Easing your mind

Being outdoors is a great way to put your mind at rest. The world is full of stressors. Work, relationships, financial issues, and family problems to name a few. Everyone needs a way to escape these stressors and put your mind at ease. Being outdoors allows your mind to normalize and decompress. It is also a great way to practice mindfulness and allows you to clear your mind. The daily stress of life begins weighing on you after a while and will lead to mental fatigue. Studies have found that nature is a restorative environment. These environments help get your mind back on track and re energized.

Tips for the outdoors

There is no right or wrong way to spend time outdoors. No matter the activity you choose, it provides you with all the benefits of nature. If you aren’t sure where to start though try hiking, go for a swim, birdwatching, bike riding or even move your home workstation outside.

These are just a few ideas to help you on your journey to get back to nature and reap the many mental health benefits that come with it. We all enjoy the comforts of our homes, but we need to have the mindset to get up and get out occasionally, to improve our way of life.


Roy DuPrez is the founder of Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Recovery, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Back2Basics is an adventure recovery program, up to six months, for young adult males ages 18-35 with substance and mental health issues looking for a positive and meaningful life.

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