Mental Health & The Outdoors

We are in strange times. With COVID-19 on the rise again, people all over the world are working from home and spending a significant amount of time indoors. Consequently, many are suffering from mental fatigue and technology overload. It comes as no surprise that the number of individuals struggling with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation has increased in 2020. This is due to various factors such as loss and grief, environmental changes, work stress, and health worries. The added responsibility of needing to coop up inside to beat the pandemic makes matters even more difficult.

Staying indoors and not getting enough outdoor activity time can quickly wreak havoc on your mental health. This becomes especially apparent if you are an outdoorsy type by nature. Fortunately, there is an incredible amount of activities you can do outdoors that are not only COVID safe, but have the potential to boost your mental health and benefit your well-being in so many ways.

Whether you are an active person who already loves to hike, swim, and adventure or someone who has only recently realized that the constant homebody life is just not working for you—keep on reading to learn more about the mental and physical health benefits of engaging in fun outdoor activities.

Science Doesn’t Lie

  1. Being outdoors, frolicking in the sun and fresh air is wonderful for your mind, body, and spirit!

[One] “study suggests that exercising outdoors, whether alone or combined with indoor physical activity, may be linked to better self-perception of health and emotional outlook, as well as reduced tension, for women and more active adults,” (Puett, et al., 2013).

Not only do our perceptions and outlooks change when we step outside, but so do the chemicals and hormones within our bodies—and science doesn’t lie.

Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, developed a study on cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and how taking a “nature pill”, or spending allotted time outside every week, affects those levels.

“Over an 8-week period, participants were asked to take a nature pill with a duration of 10 minutes or more, at least 3 times a week. Levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were measured from saliva samples taken before and after a nature pill, once every two weeks,” (Neuroscience News).

After spending about 20 to 30 minutes outdoors, the participants’ cortisol levels decreased significantly. 

Not only does cortisol decrease when experiencing time outdoors, but the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin (AKA the happy hormones) increase, leaving us feeling calm and satisfied.

Physical activity combined with being in the outdoors triggers a release of dopamine and serotonin, boosting your mood and overall happiness. Another type of neurotransmitter, called endorphins, are just as beneficial to your mental and physical health when released. Endorphins are triggered by exercise and give you that “runner’s high” feeling to boost your mood quickly.

Now that you know more about what’s going on in your body while you’re soaking up the sun, learn about the emotional and mental healing benefits that spending time in nature has to offer.

What the Wonderful World Outdoors Has to Offer You

Whether you are getting a great exercise in or simply treating yourself to well-deserved rest and relaxation, getting out to enjoy the fresh air has tremendous benefits to your physical and mental health, as well as your overall well-being.

Nature has healing powers that spending all your time indoors could never provide. Nature is so important to mental health that there is even an entire therapeutic technique dedicated to connecting individuals to nature, called ecopsychology.

In an article published by Yale School of the Environment, the author describes a study on this topic, focusing on the benefits of being outdoors.

“These studies have shown that time in nature — as long as people feel safe — is an antidote for stress: It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.”

Spending time in nature also has measurable success in treating specific mental diagnoses, even proving to be effective for in-patient psychiatric treatment.

“Attention Deficit Disorder and aggression lessen in natural environments, which also help speed the rate of healing. In a recent study, psychiatric unit researchers found that being in nature reduced feelings of isolation, promoted calm, and lifted mood among patients.”

According to an article in Positive Psychology, other mental health benefits of enjoying fresh air and being active include:

  • An increase in emotion regulation and memory function
  • An increase in motivation and energy
  • An increase in attention and focus
  • An increase in performance and concentration
  • An improvement of creative abilities and problem-solving skills
  • An improvement of sensory awareness and mindfulness
  • An increase in the appreciation of nature and the world

Whether you experience all or just one of these benefits, it is definitely worth the try to drop your electronics, take a break from work responsibilities, and step outside.What are some activities that you can do outside no matter where you live that will get your heart pumping and activate those happy hormones?

Featuring Our Isabel Hiker Pants

Outdoor Activities Certain to Improve Your Mental Health

Whether you are a city-dweller, live in the suburbs, or are already surrounded by nature, you will find something fun to do on this list!

Gentle Activities

  • Yoga or yoga with animals
  • Nature walk
  • Hammock time
  • Playing with animals
  • Gardening
  • Bird-watching
  • Fishing
  • Photography
  • Be a kid! Sidewalk chalk, hide and seek, tag, etc.

Adventurous and Active Activities

  • Kayaking
  • Hiking
  • Paddleboarding
  • Rowing/sculling
  • Cycling
  • Horseback riding
  • Camping or glamping
  • Any sport!

Cityscape Activities

  • City scavenger hunt
  • Segway tour
  • Historical tour
  • Urban camping/glamping
  • Festivals
  • Play in a park
  • Waterpark

No matter where you live and what you have access to, there is always an excuse to get outside and engage in whatever sort of activity your heart desires.

You can frolik, skip, jump, and twirl!

Remember that your mental health is so important, especially during these difficult times that we are all in right now. Make it a priority and do the things that make you feel good. Improve the overall health of your mind, body, spirit, and mood by enjoying outdoor activities and soaking up the beautiful sun!

In the meantime, check out Wondery’s newest 2020 collections to update your active wardrobe and gear so that you’ll be stylish and comfortable for your outdoor experiences.

Please keep in mind that due to COVID-19, certain activities will be limited so be sure to check restrictions and guidelines ahead of time!

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