Getting outside and spending time in nature often comes up as an important tool when discussing mental health. With most of us spending at least eight hours a day in front of screens, it’s easy to forget that we’re a part of nature — and benefit from reconnecting to it.
Whether walking through a forest or swimming in the ocean, there’s a sense of peace found in nature that you just can’t find on a busy street. And there’s ample evidence to support this good feeling. Studies show that spending time in nature can help reduce negative emotions, reduce stress, boost your mood and even improve cognitive function.
But with over 50% of the population living in urban environments, for many of us, it can feel challenging to escape the hustle and bustle of city life to find this connection. In this blog, we’re exploring the different ways you can find and tune into the benefits of nature, even in the midst of a concrete jungle.
1. Watch Sunrise or Sunset
The sun can serve as a beautiful daily reminder to wake up or wind down, but can often be overlooked when we’re constantly on the go. One way to connect with nature in the city is to tune in to the natural rhythm of your day, by allowing yourself time to look up and take in the sun’s movement.
Set your alarm for a few minutes before sunrise and find a comfortable spot outside to watch the world wake up. By doing this, you allow your circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, to align with nature. Sunlight first thing in the morning cues our bodies to produce serotonin, which helps us get to sleep at night and supports our mood throughout the day.
For those who find mornings challenging, sunset offers the perfect opportunity to step away from that screen and wind down before bed.
2. Seek Out Urban Green Spaces
Discovering and spending time in green spaces around the cities is one of the easiest ways to connect with nature. All the studies agree that green is good for our mental health. Individuals have been shown to have less mental distress, anxiety and depression, greater well-being, and healthier cortisol profiles when living in urban areas with more green space.
In addition to these mental benefits, urban vegetation can also support our physical health by absorbing harmful airborne pollutants, improving air quality, reducing traffic noise and cooling air temperatures.
If you haven’t already, explore your neighbourhood and seek out green spaces you can retreat to on a regular basis.
3. Take Part in a Community Garden
Growing our own food is another profound way to connect with nature. It’s easy to lose sight of where our food comes from and what grows naturally in our area when living in the city. Participating in the growing process allows us to physically interact with the earth, and become more familiar with the environment’s natural processes.
The essential elements of community gardening programs, such as growing plants, spending time in a safe and inclusive environment, spending time outdoors, and harvesting nourishing food, have all been attributed to positive mental health outcomes for those who take part.
Even if you’re unable to secure a plot (we know first-hand waitlists can be discouraging), spending time at a community garden allows you to get outside and cross paths with like-minded folks who share similar interests and values.
4. Shop at The Farmer’s Market
We can also connect to nature in the city by eating local, seasonal food. Supporting local farmers is more sustainable for the environment, but it also benefits our mental and physical health.
The produce you’ll find in conventional grocery stores is usually harvested before it ripens and exposed to chemicals, gasses or waxes to ensure it makes it to the shelves without rotting. Exposure to artificial lights and varying air temperatures as it travels can also impact nutritional value.
When we buy locally, produce travels a shorter distance, (which means fewer emissions), and arrives at peak ripeness, dense in nutrients. Local farmers also tend to practice more sustainable growing techniques, which leads to better soil quality, producing more nutritious and better-tasting produce.
A healthy diet full of whole foods helps support many aspects of mental health, including cognitive function, mood regulation and can reduce the risk of depression and other mental disorders.
5. Exercise Outdoors
Another way to make connecting with nature a part of your daily routine is by getting some fresh air and taking your exercise routine outside. Research has shown that replacing the treadmill with a run along a tree-lined street or taking your yoga mat to the park can improve self-esteem and mood.
When you exercise outside on a sunny day, not only do you get a natural buzz of endorphins, but the sunshine also boosts serotonin levels. A natural mood stabilizer in the body, serotonin can help reduce anxiety and symptoms of depression.
6. Add Some Greenery to Your Home
Finally, for the days when getting outside isn’t possible, you can still connect with nature with the addition of a few houseplants. While seemingly quiet and unassuming, studies have shown that interaction with indoor plants can improve mood and reduce stress levels.
Plants also help clean the air in our homes by absorbing toxins, increasing humidity and producing oxygen. In addition to being therapeutic, taking care of plants can serve as an important reminder that we also need to give ourselves the essentials to thrive.
If you don’t have a green thumb, here are some low-maintenance plants we recommend adding to your space.
Although we may feel cut off from nature in our busy, urban environments, there are plenty of ways to reconnect with it. Taking a walk in the park or eating fresh local food can be good ways to remind ourselves that we’re inextricably linked to nature and benefit from spending time there.
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