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9 Ways Being Outside Improves Anxiety and Depression

9 Ways Being Outside Improves Anxiety and Depression

Nature is not only a wonderful source of inspiration, but it can also have a powerful influence on the mind and body. It is a constant source of calming sounds and movement, refreshing, and filled with natural beauty. The natural light, the fresh air, and the fascinating diversity of nature can calm a busy mind and heal you in the most powerful ways.

Being outside is all about getting us to be more mindful and root for the world around us so we can feel less anxious, moody, and unfocused. 

Being outside also distracts you from intrusive thoughts, as the sounds, smells, textures, and sights of nature pull you out of your thoughts. It helps us to be more mindful of our environment and ignore worries or negative thoughts. 

Nature encourages movement and gives the body a soothing rhythm to help combat fatigue and even calm hyper behaviors too. When we are anxious or depressed, the brain can easily become unfocused. Movement helps to increase neurotransmitters and blood flow to the frontal lobes, which improves mood and attention. Of course, the movement also helps you achieve your fitness goals so that you can be more confident. 

So, resist the urge to oversleep or binge-watch a series whenever you’re feeling low-energy, worried, or depressed and push yourself to go out into the sunlight and watch your stress levels go down.

Anxiety and depression are on the rise amongst children and adults, and there are holistic remedies that can help to improve depression and anxiety symptoms naturally. Research shows us that there are many ways movement and being in nature help the anxious and depressed brain. 

Here are nine ways being outside improves anxiety and depression.

#1 Connect with Nature

There’s no wifi in the forest, but you’ll find a better connection.

Whenever you feel unbalanced, set an intention to be mindful of the moment. Spending at least two hours a week in green spaces is linked to health and well-being. Being outdoors lifts your mind, body, and spirit.

Mindfulness helps us to be present, and when we connect to ourselves without that harsh inner dialogue, we are able to be calmer and kinder to ourselves. When we are mindful, we notice sensations, thoughts, and feelings. We aren’t overwhelmed by them and instead are better equipped to manage them because our brains and body are calmer, and more regulated. 

Taking walks is a great place to start and setting an intention and being mindful in the moment. Make a point to look for leaves, flowers, or shapes on your walk as a way to focus your brain on nature and not those thoughts that lead you astray.

#2 Best Way to Increase Vitamin D

Direct sunlight helps the skin synthesize vitamin D, an essential nutrient for healthy brain function. Vitamin D actually protects the neurons in the brain and reduces inflammation. 

Vitamin D is also essential for neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth. All these functions are essential for the body to function properly and avoid imbalance in our system. However, vitamin D deficiency is common, and it’s no wonder many people feel low energy and uninspired. 

Low levels of vitamin D is associated with mood regulation, and it is no surprise that many with a mood disorder and depression have low vitamin D levels. 

The good news is that getting vitamin D is easy for many people. The first step is to soak in mild sunlight for ten minutes in the mornings and afternoons. One can always supplement with vitamin D, but one wants to make sure to check levels of this fat-soluble vitamin.

#3 Getting Fresh Air and Oxygen to the Brain 

Remember that incredible feeling when you take a stroll in natural environments and feel much lighter? 

Inside your body, your brain is thanking you for breathing in more oxygen.

Oxygen is vital in keeping healthy brain function, growth, and regeneration. The brain uses about three times as much oxygen for healthy neuron function as muscles do. Thus, it is susceptible to decreased oxygen levels, which can be reflected in low energy, difficulty focusing, and mood issues.

Low oxygen levels impact neurotransmitters. Studies show that low oxygen levels have a change in brain chemistry, and those with anxiety or bipolar disorder may see a worsening of symptoms as a result.

When a person is immersed in nature, the fresh outdoor air improves brain function and just makes you feel better. It’s a great relief, especially if the person is copped inside most of the day by walking outside during breaks. 

#4 The Outdoors Boosts Your Immune System 

Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years. 

Being outside makes you healthier by boosting your immune system. In a time with illnesses and chronic diseases increasing, reconnecting with the outdoors is a simple and free way to improve our mental and physical health. 

When plants surround you, you breathe in phytoncides. The airborne chemicals are produced from plants, foster the production of white blood cells in the body, and enhance our innate ability to fight off infections and diseases.  

And chronic disease states such as autoimmune disease, Lyme Disease, and COVID long haulers can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. That is why addressing the immune system can have such a positive effect on the nervous system. 

#5 Being Outdoors Boosts Your Energy 

There is no doubt about it, when we get outside, we feel more energized. The sun, sounds, and smells of nature’s habitat make our brains more alert. 

Spending time outdoors with natural scenery has been proven to improve brain health and function, particularly concentration. 

In a mental health study, children with ADHD were split into two subgroups. One group spent more free time and weekends outdoors in green spaces, while the other played indoors. The group playing outside exhibited less hyperactivity and a lack of focus. 

There are many ways being in a local park, or the natural world increases your energy levels. A deep breath of fresh air clears your lungs and gives your brain more oxygen. The presence of nature lowers your anxiety levels and channels your energy into creativity. Being out in the green and exercising shakes off stress and negative thoughts, clearing your mind so that you can focus on the things that matter.

Finally, the sunlight increases your serotonin levels, raises your energy, and keeps you calm, positive, focused, and energized. Outside, you are more likely to be active, and movement improves mental wellness by improving alertness, and mood, and calming the worried mind.

#6 Great Way to Improve Concentration

Being in nature allows for more opportunities to be mindful and also to get moving, which optimizes brain function. 

In one continuing study about the correlation between nature experience, improvements in cognitive function, and mental health, particularly memory, attention, concentration, impulse inhibition, and mood were noted.  

Researchers are optimistic that beyond shared experiences and our innate love for nature, they will be able to derive numerical data proving that spending time forest bathing produces cognitive benefits. 

The study also hopes to unite contemporary psychology and environmental science in harnessing the powerful effects of restorative environments to improve physical health. 

#7 Stress Reduction and Mental Health

Most would agree that our stress levels are lower when we are outside. That is why we feel better when we take a walk with friends or stretch outside. 

Numerous studies prove that spending time outside reduces stress. Nature shifts your focus from intrusive thoughts to relaxing elements such as gentle sunlight, beautiful flowers, soothing views, and evergreen trees. This sense of calm lowers your heart rate and improves your circadian rhythm. 

The outdoors also encourages physical activity such as walking, which releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that regulate mood and feelings of happiness. 

Another way to look at it is that it’s healthy to take a break from a stressful workplace or social media by going outside for a while. These activities can be a real brain drain, and being outside brings balance to our high screen time lives. 

#8 Outdoor Time Helps with Seasonal Affective Disorder

The shorter days, and lower light levels of winter can trigger SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a recurring condition that is triggered by the low light levels that winter brings. SAD is pretty common, especially in northern, colder states where it can be dark by 4 PM in the winter. That means that a person isn’t getting the necessary light that supports normal circadian rhythms. 

SAD can trigger anxiety, exhaustion, and sadness. Doctors recommend spending time outside to reduce the severity of SAD. Sunlight or using light box therapy in the morning can help reduce SAD symptoms.

#9 Movement Increases Feel-Good Chemicals in the Brain

The better our brain feels, the more likely we are to do something. The more we move, the more feel-good brain chemicals are released in the brain. 

Many outdoor activities, walking, running, golf, yoga, and lots of sports and exercises bring in an abundance of fresh air.

The outdoors provides an encouraging venue for physical activities, which releases endorphins, which interact with the receptors in your brain to produce positive feelings and reduce pain.

This process triggers the euphoric feeling after exercise, also known as runner’s high, which comes with a positive and energizing outlook.

Benefits of regular exercise include:

Benefits of regular exercise

  • Lower stress
  • Regulate anxious thoughts, and depression
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Fosters deep sleep

Exercise Benefits Include:

Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

  • Strengthens the heart
  • Increases energy level
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves muscle tone and strength
  • Strengthens and builds bones
  • Reduce body fat
  • Increase self-confidence

There are many moderate and engaging outdoor activities that can help release endorphins and combat depression and mental health conditions.

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Biking
  • Golf 
  • Dancing
  • Yard work
  • Gardening
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Yoga

Moderate and Engaging Outdoor Activities To Improve Mental Health

Group activities such as dancing and sports are encouraged for depression, so one can receive social support alongside enjoying physical activity. 

Spending plenty of time outside is very important for people’s mental health, yet often, we find ourselves too preoccupied to take time to walk outside. It may feel easier to stay on a device than get up from our desks to go outside, but the benefits are worth it.

Here are some suggestions to manage spending time outdoors.

  • Make it part of your routine
    • Half the battle is getting started with most things, so making getting outside part of your routine is important. 
  • Work with natural light
  • If you have to start work early in the day, when the sun’s rays are at their healthiest, open the window and use natural light. It won’t only be environmentally friendly and save your electricity, but it’s beneficial for you too.
  • Swap social media breaks for 5 minutes outside
  • Instead of spending your break time or lunchtime on social media, aim for better health by taking a step outside or exploring urban parks.
  • Have a cup of coffee al fresco
  • Are you having a coffee break? Here’s a good idea! Instead of getting cozy, sit in an outdoor space and soak in some sun.

Using nature to improve thinking, attention, and mood is something we all can do. From children to the elderly, our brains and bodies need us to move. Stress is something we all need to take time to combat every day, and it can be as simple as a daily nature walk. 

Citations:

Annals of New York Academy of Science (2012), The Impacts of Nature Experience on Human Cognitive Function and Mental Health

https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1066.3149&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Mind (2022), Nature and Mental Health

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/how-nature-benefits-mental-health/

Science Advances (2019), nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective

https://advances.sciencemag.org/CONTENT/5/7/EAAX0903.abstract

Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a

Sleep Foundation (2022), Circadian Rhythm

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm

US Department of Agriculture (2022), The Wellness Benefits of the Great Outdoors

https://www.fs.usda.gov/features/wellness-benefits-great-outdoors

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. 

Are you looking for SOLUTIONS for your struggling child or teen? 

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There are 3 ways to work with Dr. Roseann: 

You can get her books for parents and professionals, including: It’s Gonna Be OK™: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Teletherapy Toolkit™ and Brain Under Attack: A Resource For Parents and Caregivers of Children With PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalopathy.

If you are a business or organization that needs proactive guidance to support employee mental health or an organization looking for a brand representative, check out Dr. Roseann’s professional speaking page to see how we can work together. 

Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.” 

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

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