It seems obvious that taking a break from our work and offices can help us feel more peaceful and at ease, but recent evidence proves that this simple habit decreases depression and anxiety in cognitively verifiable ways. A study published in 2015 by graduate student Gregory Bratman shows that 90 minute nature walks can be the perfect antidote to our increasingly urban environments.
Bratman’s study observed mental activity in 38 adults. The researchers tracked blood flow through the part of the brain associated with ruminations before and after a 90 minute nature walk. Ruminations are thought patterns that are associated with depression and anxiety. Ruminations generally consist of unceasing, self-obsessed thoughts that have no adaptive benefit, but rather lead an individual to feel increasingly anxious and discontent. They are directly related to mental illness. The decrease in ruminations that was seen after a 90 minute nature walks suggests a significant benefit to an individual’s mental health.
Bratman's sample was divided into two groups, one of which took a 90 minute stroll in a natural, tree-laden environment, and the other of which walked along a highway. Although clearly a highway stroll would leave anybody feeling off kilter, the changes in the nature-walk group were significant. Participants in this group reported fewer negative ruminations, and blood flow to the associated part of the brain had decreased.
In addition to the noticeable mental shifts caused by nature walks, there are several other reasons to spend time in nature.
We are constantly inundated with cultural messages and social pressures. We might tell ourselves to be impervious to these influences, but it is nearly impossible to completely detach. A useful antidote to the incessant social stimulus to which we are constantly exposed is a nature-respite. In the natural world we can take a brief interlude from the constant barrage of messages and demands of our social world. Give yourself a break and recoup. This is a perfect chance to get centered and return to oneself.
It is easy to feel detached and alone. We often forget that we are an integral part of a more complex, natural system, and to get drawn into our own egocentric sense of self. When we spend time in the beauty and vastness of nature, we are reminded that there is a huge and majestic world that we are part of. We see the cycles of life taking place, sprouting, growing, and eventually moving through the process of decay. Seeing these processes and the lushness of our natural environment reminds us that we are part of something much bigger than our finite selves. It makes us feel like part of, and consequently we open up to a much greater and limitless infinity.
Perhaps the respite from society and the reminder of connectivity are the causes for the mental shifts that Bratman noticed. Either way, we love the way nature makes us feel, and hope that you do too.