Why is nature so good for your mental health? [Article].


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The first Forest Mind / Metsämieli instructor in the Netherlands uses insights from eco-psychology, mindfulness and walking coaching in a natural setting.

Metsämieli (Forest Mind)

Why is nature so good for your mental health? [Article].

A new study suggests that nature can make us happier and healthier because it generates awe.

In recent years, there have been a number of wilderness therapy programs designed to help people struggling with mental health problems. These trips often include physically and emotionally engaging experiences – such as backpacking or mountain climbing in remote areas – combined with therapeutic work from caring professionals.

Something about being busy with nature seems to be difficult to treat, to help patients to open up, to find new confidence and to concentrate their lives in more positive directions.

Psychologists who implement these programs are convinced that there is a healing power in nature, supported by research that suggests that green spaces are good for our health, well-being and even our relationships.

But what is the secret ingredient in nature that delivers these benefits?

A recent study led by researcher Craig Anderson and his colleagues (including the faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center, Dacher Keltner) suggests that it may be awe – that feeling in the presence of something greater than ourselves that fills us with wonder.

Participants in the first phase of the study were military veterans and disadvantaged young people who made a one-day or four-day river rafting trip. Rafters traveled through the wooded gorges of the American River in California or the rock formations of the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, where they encountered rapids of average level. While participants sometimes paddled through the rapids themselves, they were transported other times while guides paddled. During the longer journeys, they camped in remote, uninhabited areas.

Before and after the trip, the participants reported on their well-being, including their stress level, mood and satisfaction with life. During the trip, they kept diaries of their feelings at the end of each day, including whether they had felt awe, amusement, peace, gratitude, joy, or pride that day.

At the end of the journey, the well-being of the participants had increased dramatically, and the youth in particular were helped by the experience. When analyzing the journal entries, the researchers discovered that awe – above all other positive emotions – seemed to explain these improvements.

“Experiencing awe in nature is a powerful way to influence people’s psychology, even if they do something they really enjoy doing,” says Anderson.

Anderson and his colleagues then decided to investigate whether awe played a role in more ordinary, everyday nature experiences. Raft experiences have many components that can be useful, and the participants were not randomly assigned to travel; they had presented themselves.

In this second study phase, non-graduate students kept diaries for two weeks each day, in which they would share positive experiences they had during the day (with or without awe or nature), as well as their feelings and overall satisfaction with life. They also completed well-being surveys before and after the two weeks.

Analyzes of the diaries showed that students who spent time in nature on a given day felt more satisfied with life that night than those who did not.

Analyzes of the diaries showed that students who spent time in nature on a particular day felt more satisfied with life that night than those who did not, and that experiences of extra awe predicted any other positive emotion. Thanks to this pattern, the researchers saw that students who spent more days in nature for two weeks experienced a greater improvement in well-being during that time.

This is good news, Anderson says, because sometimes it’s not that easy for people to invest in long, expensive wilderness journeys to heal.

“Our findings suggest that you don’t have to do extravagant, extraordinary experiences in nature to get awe or gain benefits,” Anderson says. “By taking a few minutes to enjoy blooming flowers or a sunset in your daily life, you also improve your well-being.”

Why would experiencing awe have these effects? Anderson does not know for sure, but he speculates that awe can benefit well-being by inducing a “small self-image” – the feeling that you are in the presence of something greater than yourself – causing past concerns or concerns in the past may feel less significant in comparison.

But he also admits that there may be other ways in which nature experiences improve our well-being, in addition to raising awe. During river rafting, for example, physical exercise or companionship could have made a difference for the participants, because both are connected to well-being. And some students also experienced gratitude on days when they were in nature – and this also led them to be more satisfied with life.

More research needs to be done to test the specific role of awe in the healing power of nature, Anderson says. But anyway, he believes there is sufficient evidence to encourage us to add more nature to our daily lives and to protect our national parks – which, he says, are an important part of our public health system.

“Our study illustrates the importance of trying to find moments to enjoy nature and be in awe of them,” says Anderson. “People must learn to slow down and make room in their lives for that.”

This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkeley, one of the partners of Mindful.

The original article.

Share with me if you also have the experience with the overwhelming nature and the positive effect that you felt. Email Paul@paulsbuitencoaching.com

Do you want to discover how the hiking coaching of Paul’s Outdoor Coaching in combination with Forest Mind can have a positive influence on your mental health?

Contact Paul

I regularly offer experience walks and with sufficient interest I give workshops. Make your interest known. Contact Paul


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