Oct
23

Time in Nature is Good for You

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I recently visited the forests of southern Illinois, and enjoyed the beautiful sights, peaceful sounds, and fresh air of the Shawnee Forest.  It was nice to see some old familiar favorite places, and to explore and discover a couple new spots.

Taking walks in nature with my family are some of my favorite memories from when I was little, and I’ve been traipsing through the woods ever since.  When I was living in southern Illinois, the forest was 15 minutes away.  But now that I live near Chicago, it has become a special treat.

My trip reminded me once again of how good it feels to be out in nature.  Taking a walk is the perfect combination of relaxing and invigorating.  Watching a sunset over a lake is peaceful and soothing.  Taking photos is creatively stimulating and gratifying.  Time together with loved ones, sharing the experience and making memories, is emotionally intimate and meaningful.  Add to that perfect fall weather, and walla!  Just beautiful.

How rarely we get to experience this when living in a large metropolitan area!  It really makes me appreciate the people who have made it a point to set aside some metropolitan land for small parks and green areas. If you‘re one of those people, thank you.

People tend to underestimate the benefits of nature.

When predicting how time in nature will impact us, we expect less of a benefit than we actually get, according to a 2011 Carleton University study.  The study found that people…

felt more positive emotions after the natural walk than they did after the tunnel walk, but… underestimated the positive benefits of a natural walk and overestimated the positive benefits of the tunnel walk. The students in the natural walk condition also reported feeling more connected to nature, an association that was mediated by their more positive emotions.  (read entire article)

Benefits of spending time in nature

There are many benefits of spending time in nature.  A Scientific American article states,

Psychological research has shown that natural experiences help to reduce stress, improve mood, and promote an overall increase in physical and psychological well-being. There is even evidence that hospital patients with a view of nature recover faster than do hospital patients without such a view. This line of research provides clear evidence that people are drawn to nature with good reason. It has restorative properties.

This article goes on to discuss four studies at the University of Rochester which showed that exposure to nature can make people more caring, and more intrinsically motivated.

In short, we become less self-focused and more other-focused. Our value priorities shift from personal gain, to a broader focus on community and connection with others.

There are also cognitive (mental) benefits.  For example, exposure to nature can help you focus.  One way to think of this is as the type of focusing that you can do when you are in a more peaceful environment… clearing your mind, focusing on your senses, being mindful in the moment (while in nature). This experience is soothing, relaxing and grounding.

Furthermore, studies at the University of Illinois linked green views from one’s window with better ability to focus and concentrate, and better memory.  Also, research at the University of Michigan showed that attention improved after an hour in nature.  (see this article for more details)

It’s no wonder that organizations are offering therapeutic wilderness programs.  Here is one organization that offers a well-cited list of reasons why nature is therapeutic.

It’s not too late!

For those of us here in the Chicago area, we are already feeling the chill of autumn.  People are making physical preparations for winter, and are bracing themselves emotionally for what is being predicted as a very snowy season this year.

I would suggest that, as part of your emotional preparation, you make it a point to spend as much time as you can outdoors, while it’s still comfortable.  Even if there’s a slight chill, throw on that hat and sweater and go for a walk in a nearby park or forest area.  Or take another trip or two to one of the larger nature reserves within a few hours drive, like Starved Rock, Turkey Run, or Brown County.  I’m relatively new to this area, so I’m sure you may know of others that you would enjoy, that might be even closer… perhaps in northern Illinois or Michigan.

Remember that a couple of recommendations for mood are to get a half hour of sun each day and to exercise.  Add the therapeutic benefits of nature to this, and you’ve got a great three-in-one plan!

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

 

Categories : Wellness

Comments

  1. […] helps clear the mental clutter for me is to be out in nature. The fresh air and sunlight is very good for you. Remember that you do not “need” to do […]

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