Nature, Mental Health and Physical Well-Being

I’m devoting 2 posts this week  to Lifestyle and Mental health. For many years, psychologists shied away from getting overly involved in clients’ lifestyle problems because, after all, our training rarely includes nutrition, kinesiology, exercise or spirituality.  However, the connection between your lifestyle (exercise, relaxation, nutrition, time at play, stress management, spirituality) and your mental health is strong and being proved repeatedly through research studies every day.

Therefore, I want to explain what research suggests in terms of adjusting your lifestyle. Today, we look at studies about spending time in nature.

There is a reason that people have always turned to nature (the forests, wilderness, and water). It has a calming effect. Today, we are constantly subject to pinging sounds from our phones and computers; we suffer louder noises from other people; and we are intruded upon by still worse noises from machines and traffic. These noises are all man made.  Studies are finding that work environments with annoying noise and artificial lighting can disrupt sleep and mood. Noise has a negative effect on your ability to attend and think clearly. We have hardly begun to understand the effects of all the media devices but I’ll bet it won’t turn out to be beneficial for calm and well-being.

What precisely are the negative psychological effects of noise and media stimulation?

1. More deficits in attention

2. Computer fog and burn-out

3. Data overload

4. Addiction

5. Stress

One answer? Get away from the artificial world and try the natural world for awhile.  Several studies reports that people feel cognitively clearer, emotionally calmer, spiritually grounded in nature.  Silence is a gift, accept it.  I know that many people have become afraid of silence and turn on some type of noise the minute they get up and again later on when they get into a car, on a train, or arrive back at home.  To balance the overload, silence and nature sounds can be restorative.  In hospitals, patients who have views of nature experience less pain and stress, enjoy better moods and better surgical outcomes.  I’ve been watching (again) the PBS series on America’s National Parks; I’ve been to so few.  I intend to visit more of them.  Until then, I’ll walk near Lake Michigan and pretend.

Try a little time in silence, at home, outdoors or on your way to work.  Also, try some time outdoors.  Go for a walk, to a local garden, wander quiet streets, pick a new place and explore.  Look at rocks, water, plants, stars, anything but the television or computer screens – see what it does for you. If you can, plan to spend some portion of your next vacation in nature.  Until then, enjoy local

parks and recreation areas.

source of research: Roger Walsh in American Psychologist October, 2011.

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