As the plants and flowers blossom throughout spring and we enter into the warmer, sunnier summer months, many people turn to nature and the outdoors for a sense of peace and relaxation. While we rarely think of it as such, venturing into the outdoors offers us an opportunity to practice mindfulness. In doing so, we can improve our mood and cope with life’s stresses.
In this article we’ll explore mindfulness, it’s connection with nature, and how to practice mindfulness in nature to improve your mental health.
What Is Mindfulness?
At its core, mindfulness is simply being present and engaged in the moment. Yet despite its simplicity, the practice of mindfulness is challenging for many. To be mindful, we must be free from distractions and our judgements. We must also be aware of our thoughts without being pulled into them.
In today’s fast-paced world, we’re constantly distracted. Social and other digital media make it easy to get lost in our own thoughts and constantly bogged down in the opinions of others. While mindfulness is not a new concept, it’s becoming an increasingly useful practice. For many, it’s a way to block out all of the noise and to ground ourselves in the moment.
As the practice is both versatile and helpful in quieting the mind, mindfulness has become increasingly popular. It has even been incorporated by therapists into mental health treatment.
Mindfulness and Mental Health Treatment
Psychologists have conducted a number of empirical studies on the impact and effectiveness of mindfulness in treating mental health conditions. As a result, we continue to learn more about the ways regular practice of mindfulness can be incorporated into mental health treatment.
In fact, recent studies have shown mindfulness can enhance attention, improve emotional regulation, and reduce stress. Meanwhile, other studies have shown that mindfulness in combination with therapy has a positive effect on both depression and substance abuse treatment. It’s not surprising, then, that the practice has become a valued complementary treatment for many mental health disorders.
As additional research is conducted, it’s likely mindfulness will become an increasingly useful skill in many treatment programs. Growing outward from our growing understanding of the practice, more studies offer insights into mindfulness as a holistic approach to healing, and even how this can be further developed to foster a connection between the individual and the world of nature surrounding them.
The Connection Between Mindfulness and Nature
It might not come as much of a surprise to learn that many studies have shown a clear relationship between connectedness with nature and happiness. These studies show that people who feel more connected with nature, and who typically spend more time in the outdoors, report higher levels of happiness and well-being than those who spend less time outside.
Another study published in Ecopsychology in 2019 found that individuals who practiced mindfulness exercises while outdoors saw a significant reduction in negative mood and felt a stronger relationship with nature.
Increasingly, we’re learning there are true mental health and well-being benefits to getting outside and experiencing nature. While still limited, studies are drawing a clear connection between these benefits and the practice of mindfulness. In some instances, like in the research cited above, the benefits appear to be compounding.
How To Practice Mindfulness In Nature
Practicing mindfulness in nature, or nature meditation as it’s sometimes called, helps us to calm our minds and explore our feelings in a soothing environment. And it’s easy to do!
- Start by finding a comfortable spot outside. This can be at a park, in your own backyard, or anywhere that you’re able to observe your natural surroundings.
- Next, find a nice spot to sit or lay down. Find someplace where you won’t feel the need to move around or to readjust. Some people like to sit on a bench or right on the ground. Find what works for you!
- Now, focus on your senses. Use your senses of sight, sound, and touch to be present. Watch the animals, listen to the wind rustle leaves or to birds singing, and feel the warmth of the sun or coolness of the shade on your skin.
Try to do this for 5-10 minutes. During that time, draw your attention to what’s around you. If you start to get distracted and feel yourself chasing down wandering thoughts, that’s okay. Don’t try to not think. Instead, bring your attention back to your senses. Refocus on what is happening now, in the moment – hear, smell, feel, and observe what is taking place around you.
After a few minutes have passed, take note of how you feel. Are you calmer? Less worried or anxious? Do you feel physically relaxed? Take a few seconds to move around and bring your attention back to the sensations of your own body.
If you find the first few times you try nature meditation you are having difficulty distancing from your thoughts, that’s completely normal. Start by practicing for shorter periods of time, and then expanding until you feel more at ease. It may also be helpful to try different locations.
While getting outside and practicing mindfulness has a number of benefits for your mental health, it’s often only one part of a larger journey to recovery. It’s important to work with a mental health professional who can help you develop a complete treatment plan.
Start Your Journey to Recovery
Whether you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental illness, the team at Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare is here to help.
Using evidence-based techniques, from cognitive behavioral therapy to mindfulness exercises, our team of psychologists, therapists, and clinicians develop a customized treatment plan to meet your needs. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options.