Written by Derek Leung- NIF Blog Ambassador
Nature has an amazing effect on us. Blue sky with cumulus clouds wisping away; brushstrokes of green foliage covering the foreground and background. Fresh air flows through our lungs, while we feel the warmth of the sun above us, peeking through the forest canopy. When we open our ears, the crunch of deadfall under our feet sets the rhythm for the melody around us: the successive dropping glissandos of Cardinalis cardinalis accompanied by the tambourines of Populus tremuloides—sensory overload, if you are paying attention. Here are three ways that describe how exploring nature can improve your mental wellness.
1) Being Mindful of Nature
Stimulating your senses helps to increase your awareness of surroundings, while decreasing the frequency of internal thoughts. That is, it keeps you mindful of your external and internal experiences and keeps you thinking in the present. This is the crux of mindfulness meditation, and it aids in stress reduction and increased attention.
Awareness of the senses is also key to developing strong visualisation skills, which can train your brain via neuroplasticity. When I close my eyes, I find myself in a solitude of sound during the middle of August, facing the clear blue Eva Lake with a backdrop of mountain, Picea engelmannii and warming sun. The return trail winds 7.1 km back the way I came, and I’m backed by the Coursier Creek valley. I sit down for lunch, with a ham sandwich in one hand and a container of water in the other. When I open my eyes, Eva Lake reminds me that everything will be okay.
Bright days filled with green leaves and yellow sunlight help set a relaxed, positive mood. Human eyes are preferentially more sensitive towards yellow-green wavelengths, which reflects our natural connection to vegetation. Research has shown that green environments promote positive feelings, as opposed to red environments, which promote anger.
Seeing the blue sky indicates to our brain that it is daytime, which controls melatonin levels (i.e. regulates our sleep cycle), and results in increased energy and awakeness. Considering that we sleep for a third of our lives, sleep is an easily-neglected factor of mental wellness. Waking up to a blue sky is crucial to our health!
Exercise, from hiking, to cycling, to canoeing/kayaking, reminds you that you are on track with your healthy, active life. This is key to improving not only physical fitness, but also mental wellness through a positive body image and self-esteem. Remember: you have to start somewhere; why not now?
From biking in Point Pelee National Park, to touring the transition zone at Beausoleil Island (Georgian Bay Islands National Park), to hiking in the backcountry of Mount Revelstoke National Park, I’ve found many places of inspiration in our National Parks. When you try new ways to explore a National Park, you will always discover something new.
To summarize, nature has major impacts on our mental wellness. These impacts have led to the development of nature therapy, that is, using nature to treat illnesses, and Attention Restoration Theory:
- Stress reduction
- Increased attention
- Increased positive affect (feelings)
- Increased energy
- Reduced anger
- Reduced depression
To read more about the research behind nature and health benefits, check out Mood Walk’s article on the Nurture of Nature. Mood Walks is a program in Ontario which integrates hiking and nature to promote both physical and mental health via nature therapy. North in Focus recently led a workshop and gave a presentation at the Mood Walks Summit 2017 in Toronto!
Canada’s National Parks are places for you to explore and find yourself in the process; places for you to think of when you craft your dreams at night; places for you to remember how simple life is, although things can seem complicated.
So go out there; do your thing.
To read more about Derek’s trips to the National Parks of Canada, please check out his blog on the Parks of North America!