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How Living an Outdoor Lifestyle Benefits your Mental Health

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we're exploring the many ways that living an outdoor lifestyle can actively benefit your mental health. #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth

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Let’s be honest: life can be hard.

Really, uncomfortably, ridiculously hard.


Between bills, work, exercise, family, and friends — sometimes even just thinking about navigating through the day can make your head spin. 


Unfortunately, current data reflecting the mental health epidemic in the United States is alarming. According to a 2022 study, 46% of adults under the age of 35 said they had recently experienced feelings of being so stressed that they felt that they could not properly function in their daily lives. That's not even including those of us who soldier on - even when we’re clinically burnt out - and ready to sleep for a year straight.


So...is there any good news? Fortunately, YES. Better yet, there’s something free and accessible to everyone that can greatly help us all deal with everyday life's ups and downs. 


Making nature a part of your daily routine will have a MAJOR positive impact on your mental health. 


In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Why being outside is so good for your mental health

  • Ways you can live an outdoor lifestyle (without needing to become a mountain recluse)

  • How you can still get the benefits of an outdoor lifestyle when living in a major city

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Why is Being Outside So Good for Mental Health?

Is spending time outdoors good for you? Absolutely! Nature has countless mental health benefits for you to enjoy. 


Plus, scientists are discovering increasingly more positive effects on mental health every day. Let’s get into it.

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An Outdoor Lifestyle Lowers Stress Levels 

SO MANY people struggle with high levels of stress. It’s an epidemic in its own right.


When you’re clinically stressed out, your nervous system stays on high alert. It can mistake everyday circumstances (like a looming deadline or a difficult conversation) for a life-and-death situation. Your body, as it was evolutionarily programed, goes into fight or flight mode. 


Prolonged periods of high stress significantly increase your risk for other mental health problems and weakens your immune system. But if you get outside a little bit each day, you significantly reduce the negative effects stress has on your body - even if for just 20 minutes.


☀️ An outdoor lifestyle can reduce stress by:

  • Lowering your cortisol (stress hormone) levels, especially when compared to urban environments 

  • Easing your muscle tension

  • Stimulating your senses to help you be more mindful


Recent studies have supported that spending time in nature can lower your cortisol levels and ease your muscle tension. Nature can also calm down your sympathetic nervous system that controls your fight or flight response. Plus, when you’re outside, it’s significantly easier to practice mindfulness. All of your senses simply come alive.


For example, you can…

  • Feel the sun on your skin 

  • Smell the freshly cut grass 

  • Hear the birds chirp

  • Taste the salty air by the seaside

  • See the sunrise or sunset 


Just noticing what’s around you will draw you into the present moment. Mindfulness is a proven mental health solution to reduce stress.

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Getting Outside Reduces Anxiety & Depression Symptoms

Unfortunately, many of us will deal with anxiety and depression throughout our lives. Both can make it difficult for you to function and complete everyday tasks if left untreated. Mental health professionals often recommend time outside to combat symptoms associated with these disorders.

 

☀️ Getting outside can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms by:

  • Getting you out of your head and reducing intrusive (undesirable) thoughts

  • Lowering activity in the part of the brain linked to negative thought patterns

  • Encouraging movement and exercise


Medical studies have noted a "significant and sizeable" correlation between green space and postitive community mental health reports. Nature's instinct mindfulness is a key remedy for helping you "get out of your own head." Instead of lingering on negative or harmful thoughts, nature encourages us to turn our attention outward and focus on the hear-and-now vs. the troubles of modern life. 


Going outside also encourages movement. And, as we all know, exercise provides so many positive benefits for both our physical and mental health.

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An Outdoor Lifestyle Helps You Get Better Sleep

It’s no surprise that sleep plays an important role in your mental health. We all wake up a bit cranky if we get less than especially 5 hours of sleep. 


But did you know that going outside can actually help you sleep better


☀️ An outdoor lifestyle helps you get better sleep by:

  • Resets your circadian rhythm from natural sunlight

  • Increasing melatonin production so you can fall asleep faster and easier

  • Lowers symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety


Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock that tells you when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. It does this by releasing different hormones at different points throughout the day.  


Your circadian rhythm works largely through exposure to natural sunlight and darkness. Experiencing sunlight during the day helps your body produce more melatonin at nighttime. 


Net result? You'll have a much easier time falling - and staying - blissfully asleep. 

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Getting Outdoors Improves Your Mood

An outdoor lifestyle not only decreases negative mental health symptoms. It also helps increase positive mental health symptoms. Like improving your mood.

So, if you need a mood-boost, try getting outside!


☀️ Getting outdoors helps you improve your mood by:

  • Increasing feelings of calm, joy, and creativity 

  • Helping you experience awe

  • Strengthening your self-confidence


Decreasing negative emotions creates a trickle-down effect. Nature creates more space for you to experience positive emotions. It opens up more headspace for joy, creativity, and awe. When you look at beautiful nature scenes, you experience awe. Which helps improve your overall mood.

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An Outdoor Lifestyle Helps You Feel Less Lonely

Loneliness may not seem like that big of a deal. But as humans, we’re hardwired as social creatures. We NEED connection

  

Without meaningful relationships, our mental health suffers. You’re at more risk for other mental health disorders when you feel chronically lonely. 


☀️ An outdoor lifestyle helps you feel less lonely by:

  • Giving you a sense of connection with the natural world

  • Encouraging connection with other people


An outdoor lifestyle encourages you to make meaningful connections. 


You get exposed to not only more people when you get outside, but you also foster a connection with nature. Realizing and appreciating that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself helps you feel less lonely.

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Easy Outdoor Activities to Improve Your Mental Health 

Now that you know all of the amazing ways that nature improves your mental health, let’s talk about how to put that knowledge into action


There are so many ways you can incorporate outdoor activities into your daily routines so that you can live an outdoor lifestyle. Here are just a few ideas for including simple outdoor activities into your daily life:

  • Take fresh air breaks. Working in an office all day long? Take a couple of minutes to step outside when you go on your breaks. 

  • Drink your morning coffee outside. Instead of at the kitchen table, take your coffee onto your balcony or porch. 

  • Exercise outside. If you already exercise regularly, try taking it outside. You’ll get the benefits from both the exercise AND the fresh air.

  • Short walks. You’re busy. If you don’t have time for a full-on hike, take a five-minute walk outside instead. 

  • Indoor plants. Bring nature inside with indoor plants. Yes, even if you don’t have a green thumb (certain houseplants like the snake plant are pretty hard to kill).

  • Invest in your outdoor future. If all else fails, sometimes investing in your own outdoor future will be the driving force to finally kick-start your time in nature. Fortunately, booking an experience like a guided hike within a local park can be an efficient and cost-effective way to reap nature's mental, physical, and social benefits.  


These are all activities you can easily incorporate into your everyday. They increase your outside time without taking away from your busy schedule.

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What if I Can’t Get Myself to Go Outside?

Anxiety and depression can sometimes make it difficult to get out of bed, let alone plan a day outside. We're all merely human, and some days the weight of modern life bears down more aggressively than others.


So what can you do if you’re struggling to get outside?


Here are a few simple ways to get more nature exposure when you’re struggling with motivation:

  • Look out a window.  If you can’t get outside, don’t beat yourself up - just looking outside is the next best thing. Studies show that patients even recover from surgery faster when they have a hospital room with a window.

  • Sit on a balcony or porch. If you don’t have the energy or motivation to go on a walk, try switching locations by sitting on your balcony or porch. 

  • Get an indoor plant. If all else fails, bring nature to you. You can order a houseplant online and have it delivered right to your door!

  • Exercise. Even turning your living room into a makeshift gym through knocking out 20 minutes of push ups, sit ups, and jumping jacks will for 20 minutes will benefit your mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.


The key is to start small. You don’t need to hike a mountain on day one. Small incremental steps, done consistently overtime, can yield staggering results.

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Where can I Find Nature?

This is unfortunately a very common question, especially here in the Detroit region. For one historical or societal reason or another, many aspiring Metro Detroit outdoor enthusiasts do not believe that they live near nature definitely a valid question. More than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities. 


Easy places to find nature in major cities like Detroit:


Nature is truly everywhere if you go looking to experience it - and your mental health will thank you.

 

We want to hear from you!  How has nature impacted your mental health? Leave us a comment below!


Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a therapist or other qualified mental healthcare provider with any questions that you may have regarding a medical condition.

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Excellent article with much insight to how to alleviate symptoms of mental health…get out into Gods incredible world!

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