Nature is deeply connected to who we are as human beings.
For this reason, a multitude of studies show that spending time in nature greatly increases feelings of well being, and reduces the risk for mental health disorders.
Going for a walk outside has emerged as one of the most widely used coping skills, especially through the pandemic. Coping skills are what we use to cope, or to manage symptoms of mental health issues. Spending time in nature reduces stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and fear.
Going for a walk offers us the experience of being in the present moment, the cornerstone of mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness means taking note of the setting around you, using all five senses. It is this practice that allows the body and mind to relax.
Nature is not only a visual setting, but also a smell, a feeling, and a nostalgic reminder of uncomplicated beauty and ease. It reminds us, perhaps, to have faith in something bigger than ourselves, and that we are not alone responsible for the happenings of the world. And in this humility, we might be able to find some relief, some healing, and some peace of mind.
One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science explored the difference between people who walked for 90 minutes in a high-traffic, nature-deficient setting, and people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting.
The results indicated that those who spent time in a natural setting showed decreased activity in the area of the brain related to depression.
Walking in nature increases pleasant feelings, as well as physical well being. Time spent in natural settings reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
One of the highlights of this study was the significant decrease in rumination for individuals who spent time in nature. Rumination is repetitive thought focused on negative emotion, a common symptom of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Rumination happens in the area of the brain called the subgenual prefrontal cortex. After walking for 90 minutes in a natural setting, the study showed decreased activity in this region of the brain. If rumination is something you struggle with, you’ll understand how very helpful these findings could be for you.
Time spent in nature has shown to improve memory, problem solving skills, and emotion regulation. Author Richard Louv describes the implications of what he calls ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder’ in his book Last Child In The Woods. He defines this deficiency as the loss of connection of humans to their natural environment.
Spending time in nature increases feelings of happiness, as well as improving our health.
This positive connection to nature explains why patients recover faster when they have a natural view from their hospital beds. It accounts for those who have used the solitude of nature to work through inner conflict, and to mend wounds which there may be no other force powerful enough to repair.
Living in Tampa may mean living in an urban area, but we still feel the benefits of a walk outside- even just a five or ten minute walk around the block. This is a very effective coping skill that can help manage or prevent mental health issues, including the general stress of everyday living.
There are abundant options if you choose to go beyond a walk around your neighborhood. Check out a local park, like Al Lopez Park, which has a nice walking path that circles around a small pond for nature viewing. You might enjoy time at a local beach, like Picnic Island Park, or the beautiful shores of Honey Moon Island State Park. Walk along the shore and collect shells, go for a swim, or watch the sunset.
For an abundance of nature trails and hikes, visit our state parks. Hillsborough River State Park is about a thirty minute drive west of central Tampa, in Thonotosassa, FL. There are multiple trails and plenty of animals to see in their natural habitat. Don’t forget the bug spray!
Click here to explore our state parks.
Click here to explore Tampa’s local parks.
Click here for an article about Tampa Bay’s best nature parks, beaches and botanical gardens from ABC action News.
Click here for a map of the Florida Springs, Florida’s “original water parks”.