It seems pretty simple, but I always feel better – happier, more energetic and with a more positive outlook – when I get outside for a walk or bike ride or to just sit in the sun for a few minutes. I joke that I am getting my “vitamin D fix” from the sun exposure but, actually, this isn’t a joke. Research shows that even a little sun exposure increases the amount of serotonin (the happy chemical!) in our brains. A lack of vitamin D can lead to symptoms of depression and is one of the leading causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It turns out, though, that there is a deeper connection between nature and good mental health. The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment recently published a study that points to higher incidents of anxiety disorders (20% higher) and mood disorders (40% higher) in city dwellers where there is a lack of green-space versus people in rural areas. Brain scans show that walking in nature decreases neural activity in the brain that is active during rumination – repetitive negative thinking. Basically, being in nature can help to calm your mind and regulate your emotions.
So, if you are feeling down, anxious or just plain overwhelmed – get yourself out in the grass, surround yourself with flowers and trees and sunlight, take a deep breath of fresh air and keep your body moving. Doing this regularly can lead to overall better mental health and well-being. And, it’s free and always accessible!