If you’ve ever spent the week in the backcountry, you know just how refreshing that time in nature can be. When you return from a week in the wilderness, you feel a sense of new energy, peace, and happiness.
Those positive feelings are something to pay attention to. They’re evidence of science-backed research on the ways time in nature can improve your mental health. And in a world where so much of your day is spent hunched over laptops and glued to screens, you could likely use these benefits now more than ever.
The good news is, you don’t have to complete a month-long thru-hike to get a mental boost from nature — though if you can swing it, we encourage you to hit the trail for a few days. But even if you’re trying to squeeze a little more nature into your 30-minute lunch break, the benefits of doing so are well worth the effort.
Below, we’ll dive into five ways spending time in nature can boost your mental health — plus easy ways to incorporate more nature timeinto your busy schedule.
5 Ways Being in Nature Can Improve Your Mental Health
Here at Cloudline, we tend to find any excuse to spend more time in nature — but if you need another reason, here are six ways it can boost your mental health:
1. It can improve your mood
You’ve probably experienced firsthand the natural high you get from spending a day in the fresh air. But science backs up these feelings: Nature makes us happy. Studies have shown that people who spend time in nature experience more positive emotions afterward than those who don’t. And if you add some activity to the mix — like hiking, biking, or running — your body’s release of endorphins can further boost your mood.
2. It can make you more creative.
Distractions are prevalent in the modern day world, to say the least. It may feel like your day is spent being sucked into one distraction after another. And it’s no wonder, with so many advertisements, devices, and news stories constantly bombarding you.
Not surprisingly, time in nature — away from these distractions — can help your brain recover. One study showed that after four days of backpacking, participants were better able to complete puzzles than participants who hadn’t been on the trail. Scientists think time in nature allows your prefrontal cortex the time and ability to recover from consuming so much information on a regular basis. As a result, time in nature can lead to better problem-solving.
3. It can encourage quality time with friends or family.
Most of us spend our days communicating with friends, family, and colleagues through a screen. Texts, Slack messages, Zoom — it’s all become the norm. And when you are together in person, it still feels like you can be fighting for your loved one’s attention. After all, who goes anywhere without their phone in their pocket, and who’s not tempted to check it when it pings?
Luckily, time in nature — especially on trails in the backcountry — can encourage screen-free time with friends and family. Without the constant distraction of devices, you can enjoy one another’s presence in a more meaningful way.
4. It helps you build confidence.
All the wonderful benefits of spending time in nature contribute to increased confidence, too. Better concentration, lower cortisol (and therefore stress) levels, a better mood, and deeper connections can all foster confidence.
And that’s not to mention the confidence that comes from developing knowledge of the outdoors and doing physically or mentally challenging activities. It may just be anecdotal evidence, but how many of us have noticed a boost in self-confidence after a tough hike? There’s something about challenging your body or practicing self-reliance in the wilderness that builds self-esteem.
5. It can help you cope with stress.
Whether it’s your job, your busy schedule, or a difficult life event, you probably deal with various sources of stress on a daily basis. You already know that eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep can help you cope with stress. But time in nature can, too.
Studies show that time in nature decreases stress and leads to lower heart rates and less anxiety. And these benefits are in addition to the benefits you get from exercise, like a walk or bike ride. You don’t need to take a walk in the woods to benefit from nature, though — studies show even looking out a window can help reduce stress.
How to Incorporate More Time in Nature Into Your Routines
While going out for a multi-day backpacking trip or spending the weekend camping in the woods sounds great, it’s not always possible. Luckily, you can absorb the mental benefits of spending time in nature in small doses, too. All you have to do is find simple, consistent ways to incorporate more nature into your daily routines.
Here are a few ideas:
Bring nature to your desk: If you work indoors all day, your time in nature is limited. So do what you can to bring nature to you. Move your desk near a window, if possible. Add a potted plant or nature-inspired artwork to your office. If it helps you focus, play nature sounds in the background while you work.
Eat lunch outside: Break up your day with some time outdoors when the weather allows. If you bring your lunch to work, take it outdoors to a courtyard, picnic table, or park rather than eating at your desk. Or walk to a nearby restaurant to grab lunch instead of having it delivered.
Walk or bike to work: While it’s not possible for everyone to do every day, walking or biking to work is a great way to incorporate more time outdoors into your workday. If doing so every day is too much, try to commit to one day per week.
Take a morning or evening walk: If you can’t walk or bike to work — or if you work from home — you can still squeeze some time outdoors into the beginning or end of your day. Take a quick stroll around your neighborhood before you begin work or after you sign off in the evening. It’s a great way to not only spend more time outside but to clear your mind before or after the workday.
Schedule outdoor activities into your weekends: By the time the weekend rolls around, you’ve got chores piled up, and you’re tired from the week. It’s tempting to stay home, get things done around the house, and just relax. But scheduling an outdoor activity for the weekend will only help in allowing your mind to recover from the week’s stress.
Boost Your Mental Health With More Time in Nature
If you’re looking for enjoyable ways to boost your mood, deepen your relationships, or build your confidence, spending a little more time in nature can help. Beyond these invaluable benefits, being in nature simplyfeels good — who could argue with that?
Remember, you don’t need to set out on a wilderness expedition to enjoy nature’s benefits. Just do what you can to incorporate a little more nature into smaller pockets of your day, and notice how your mood changes.
Looking for new ways to bring the outdoors into your life? At Cloudline, we’re all about helping you enjoy nature to the fullest. Sign up for our newsletter, and enjoy more outdoor adventure tips, ideas, and how-to’s delivered straight to your inbox.
Emily is a copywriter based in northern Michigan. She's happiest outdoors, whether she's hiking, skiing, paddling, or swimming. As a writer, she loves working with companies that inspire all people to get outside. When she's not writing or playing outdoors, you can find her cooking, reading, or hanging out with family and friends. Find more of her writing here.