It's Mental Health Awareness Week and we're looking at one of the most positive ways to promote a healthy mind: by heading outdoors. With spring in full swing and the weather warming up, it's the perfect time to use our natural environment to help improve our mental health.
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With the help of Forest Holidays and chartered psychologist Dr Saima Latif, we've uncovered six ways the forest can help improve your mental health this spring...
1. It rejuvenates your body and mind
Dr Latif suggests that "taking a walk in the woods is a great way to combat the stresses of modern urban living" and that there are a number of health benefits attached to the practice of 'forest bathing'. Developed in Japan in the 1980s and also known as Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing is simple: a visit to a natural area and a walk in a relaxed way to achieve a calming, rejuvenating and restorative effect on the mind and body.
2. It improves symptoms of depression
A study by Mind found that 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, taking them from depressed, stressed and anxious to more calm and balanced. Researchers have also found that forest bathing trips significantly decrease anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue scores.
3. It decreases stress levels
Research has uncovered the positive health effects of viewing natural landscapes on stress levels and speed of recovery from stress, faster physical recovery from illness and long-term overall improvement on people's health and wellbeing. Dr Latif suggests that "forests can help to lower blood pressure by reducing stress and helping to improve mental health."
Dr Latif continues: "Forest therapy is now increasingly popular in some countries and it is even available in the UK as a therapeutic counselling intervention for individuals who wish to receive support for their problems or just to de-stress, by taking in the forest atmosphere." Even having a simple natural plant in a room can have a significant impact on the experience of stress and anxiety.
4. It alleviates mental fatigue
Dr Latif says that encounters with nature help to alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind. She says: "Environments can increase or reduce stress - think about it: what we see, hear and experience at any moment can change our mood. Being in and around nature can reduce anger, fear and stress, and increase pleasant feelings. The visual access and being within a natural space helps to restore the mind's ability to focus."
5. It lowers blood pressure
A forest environment also "lowers your blood pressure, reduces your levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and increases levels of serum adiponectin, a hormone which helps prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease", says Dr Latif.
6. It helps to improve relationships
Connecting with the environment makes us more relaxed as human beings, more energised and more focused on those things in life that are more important to us. Dr Latif says: "Nature will make us appreciate humanity more, particularly those who mean something to us and whom we may have neglected or taken for granted in the past."