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  • Writer's pictureSpruce Psychiatric

Getting Outside to Improve Mental Health

As a mental health group based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, it's no wonder we are big fans of getting outside to improve mental health. In today's fast-paced world, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. However, there's a simple yet powerful antidote right outside your door: nature. Research shows that spending  outdoors can have a profound impact on your mental well-being. 


In this blog post, we'll explore the numerous benefits of getting outside for your mental health and share practical tips for incorporating outdoor activities into your everyday routine, even if you live in a city.




The Science Behind Getting Outside to Improve Your Mental Health


According to the American Psychological Association and research done by Gregory Bratman, PHD, at the University of Washington, evidence shows that contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress.


Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies connectedness to nature, states: 


“There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well­being. You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.”


Let's break it down.



  1. Physical Wellness - Being outside encourages an active lifestyle, which has been shown to increase sleep quality, decrease risk of disease, and increase life expectancy. Being outside has been shown to lower cortisol levels, stress levels, heart rate, and other factors related to cardiovascular health.

  2. Mental Wellness - Studies have shown that being outside or near nature can not only lower the risk of depression, but also encourages a faster recovery of psychological distress. Studies show that being in nature can restore and strengthen our mental capacities, increasing focus and attention.

  3. Community - In today's world, we can feel more isolated than ever. Being outside and away from our computers and devices encourages us to look up at the people around us, and to overall experience a sense of community and camaraderie over a shared communal space.

  4. Grounding and Mindfulness - Nature offers a remedy through grounding and mindfulness practices. Taking off your shoes, feeling the earth beneath your feet, and immersing yourself in the sensations of the natural world can bring a great sense of relief to our everyday stressors. Try practicing techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or simply observing your surroundings. Tuning into the present moment can cultivate a sense of inner peace and calm that carries over into your daily life.



 


Easy Ways To Incorporate the Outdoors into Your Everyday Life


Research suggests that even very quick visits outdoors can be beneficial. A 2021 study, for example, found that the 20 to 90-minute sessions in nature were most beneficial for mental health. Another large 2019 study found that people who spent at least two hours a week in nature — whether in one longer outing or in multiple smaller chunks of time — were more likely to positively describe their health and well-being than were people who spent no time in nature. 


Her are some suggestions for how to incorporate the outdoor in your everyday routine:


  • Ride your bike or scooter to work - Not only is this helpful to counteract a vehicle's affect on the environment, but you also reap the benefits of being in the fresh air and being present on your commute.

  • Take a short walk on your lunch break - Whether you work from home or at an office, stepping outside for some fresh air can do the trick even if you're in a more urban setting. Moving your body, taking some deep breaths, and getting away from your screen for just a few moments can massively improve your mental wellbeing at work.

  • Invite a friend to explore a park with - If you struggle with getting out and doing things alone, inviting a buddy just might be the accountability you need. Plus, you get to tick the "connection" box on your list of mental health needs too!

  • Try a new group hobby - In tandem with the above, trying out a run club or hiking club might be a great way to connect with others and also have accountability for getting outside. If those sound like too intense of physical activity, try looking into pickleball, a birding group, or a walking group.





Seattle Outdoor Spaces to Enjoy

If you live in Seattle and want to find outdoor spaces that are easily accessible within the city, check out some of our favorites below:




If you have more time and are feeling adventurous, there are tons of incredible hiking trails within minutes of the city. To find more nearby trails, try checking out AllTrails and the WTA.









Equity and Access to the Outdoors in Seattle


It's extremely important to acknowledge that not everyone has equal access to the outdoors. Even in a nature-surrounded city like Seattle, there are pockets of inner city that do not have nearby parks, access to waterfronts or tree canopy on hot summer days, or safe spaces to ground oneself in nature. This research paper provides a summary  on the current state of accessibility and transit to local parks in Seattle specifically, as well as initiatives to take for us to become a more equitable city when it comes to access to green spaces. In addition, City of Seattle has a nice visual summary of the current state of the city’s green space and their goals.


Here is another resource from Seattle.gov that highlights some of our city’s specific goals to help with these issues.


Another great way to get involved and increase access to the outdoors is through advocacy Check out this website for a few advocating opportunities such as listening sessions and surveys. 


Finally, here are a few organizations that are doing some great work in the city in efforts to make the outdoors a more equitable space. Getting involved with these organizations can be a great way to incorporate the outdoors, community care, and helping others into your mental health regiment:




 


In conclusion, embracing the great outdoors is a powerful yet simple tool for enhancing mental health. Here at our psychiatric practice in Seattle, we’ve witnessed firsthand the positive impact that nature can have. We encourage everyone to find moments for outdoor rejuvenation. May these resources inspire you to integrate more nature into your daily routine and reap the mental health benefits that follow!












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