The Impact of Nature on Mental Health: Discovering the Healing Power of Greenery
My first year at university has been everything I could’ve wanted and more. Moving to a new city was fun and challenging.
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Living in the centre of a city has its positives and negatives. You have almost every amenity you could think of within walking distance. However, there was one thing I missed after moving from Sheffield to Newcastle...nature.
You might wonder what I mean. Sheffield is a big city—where’s the nature there? Well, there’s the Peak District National Park on my doorstep. It’s something I’m incredibly lucky to have so close to home. Since I bought my first car, I’ve rarely gone more than a couple of weeks without visiting it. I never truly understood how impactful nature can be on your mental health. There’s something about walking within a vastness of greenery that boosts your mood.
Newcastle isn’t without its green spaces, but I didn’t have my car with me when I was there, so I didn’t visit many of them, unfortunately. It was a shame because, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, you can’t help but feel relaxed. Charities like Mind actively push being around nature to boost your mental health. In truth, it’s good for your health all-round; walking is good physical exercise, and when it’s in the tranquillity of the beautiful Peak District, it’s difficult to feel any stress at all.
The US Government conducted a study into the impact of nature on mental health and the results are even higher than I expected. When individuals interacted with natural outdoor environments, 92% demonstrated improvements to their general health. 98% showed improvements to their mental health, with the absence of noise and air pollution being the main beneficial factors. I don’t know why we don’t all interact with nature more.
Think of your standard working week. Monday to Friday, you’ll most likely spend within areas of high pollution, whether that be noise, air or both. At the weekends there’s housework to do, children to look after, shopping to be done. We don’t make time for nature because, in truth, there’s not much time left in the week for the average person to go for a walk. There are parks in cities and towns, but this isn’t quite ‘natural’ enough. It’s a lot better to visit these, though, than not to experience nature at all. Uninterrupted nature like that found in the Peak District just isn’t an option for most people.
The mental health of children is at an all-time low and I think a lack of nature is partly to blame. Kids don’t seem to play outside like they used to. I spent some time playing outside as a child, but nowhere near as much as my parents did when they were young. Today, children would rather watch TV or play on their iPads and games consoles. This can’t be healthy. Children need to develop their motor skills; in my opinion, this is often overlooked. My parents are fantastic, they’ve done everything they could’ve done for me and more, but I wasn’t an active child. I can’t climb a tree, for example, something I now believe is a skill everybody should have.
I’m not saying nature can fix everyone’s mental health, but it certainly won’t damage it. The problem for most people is that it’s not that easy. Simply getting to places of natural beauty can be a challenge—it’s not like there’s lots of public transport to them, because then they wouldn’t be as natural. If possible, we all need to try and get out more.
Maybe circle a day in your diary each month for a peaceful walk. When you’ve done this once, I think you will automatically want to spend time in the wilderness. Google what’s around you. You’ll probably be surprised at how close some places might be.
We’re very lucky in this country to have such picturesque areas and beautiful countryside. Our National Parks are breathtaking; in some places, it’s difficult to think that you’re still in the UK. We have these places, it’s just a case of getting to them. Who knows, you might love it, and with the proven benefits to your mental health, it’s got to be worth a go, surely?