With the approaching onset of winter, light levels are now lessening, and depression and low mood can become an increasing problem for many people. This, combined with a second lockdown in progress, means it’s never been more important for us to connect with the natural world around us.
The benefit of being out in a natural environment has now been scientifically proved, and even spending 15 minutes a day outside in a place with trees or water, or both, can help you to feel better. It’s a fact!
Walking through trees is already a pleasurable experience, but even more so when you discover that the trees around you release chemicals called phytoncides which, when inhaled, trigger our body’s circulatory system. It responds by reducing our pulse rate and lowering our blood pressure which decreases our cortisol levels, making us feeler calmer and more relaxed.
The leaves of the trees and ferns in a woodland setting can have beneficial effects on our bodies as the geometric patterns on the leaves (called fractals) are pleasing to the eye and induce a calming feeling, much the same as when you are listening to relaxing music.
Walking through trees and forests, especially at this time of year, the autumnal leaves under foot and the soil underneath contain billions of micro-organisms. As these are trampled across, they release mycobacterium into the air which can trigger the brain’s neuron transmitters to release serotonin – the chemical responsible for mood. This is the same way that anti-depressants work, so a walk in the woods is a natural mood enhancer without the need for pills of any kind. It also explains why gardeners are often so happy with their hands in the mud.
Being around water, whether it’s a pond, stream, lake, river or sea has a significant effect on the brain. The sound of the water decreases the production of cortisol and makes you feel calmer, and your brain can relax.
Another thing which often which can happen, if you’re lucky, when out in amongst nature, is that you may spot some wildlife – a squirrel, fox or something that you rarely see. This has a positive effect as it induces the brain to release a quick burst of dopamine which makes you feel instantly happy.
As well as the sheer distraction of being out in the open, breathing in fresh air and all the chemical responses which are happening inside your body, it’s never been a better time to go and find your own piece of nature to explore.