Posted 7th Apr 2017
7th April marks World Health Day and this year World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the theme to be "Depression: Let’s Talk", with the aim of educating the public on depression and how it can be prevented and treated, in the hope of reducing the still prevalent stigma around mental health.
According to WHO more than 300 million of us globally suffer with depression and a Natural England commissioned report suggests that health care interventions focused on natural environments are important in improving mental health. So often overlooked is the mental, emotional and cognitive benefits that nature can provide and Forest Holidays has been working with chartered psychologist Dr Saima Latif to reveal the ways in which a simple walk in the forest can improve mental health.
Rejuvenates body and mind
"Taking a walk in the woods is a great way to combat the stresses of modern urban living", says Dr Latif. The Japanese know this well, as the practice of 'forest bathing' continues to grow in popularity. Developed in Japan in the 1980s, forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku, is based on a simple notion: a visit to a natural area and a walk in a relaxed way can have a calming, rejuvenating and restorative effect on the mind and body.
Dr Latif continues: "Forest therapy is now being increasingly popular in some countries and it is even available in the UK as a therapeutic counselling intervention for individuals who wish to receive support for their problems or just to de-stress, by taking in the forest atmosphere." Even having a simple natural plant in a room can have a significant impact on the experience of stress and anxiety.
Improves symptoms of depression
Mental health charity, Mind, conducted research into the ways in which nature can intervene therapeutically and found that 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside - from depressed, stressed and anxious to more calm and balanced. Researchers have also found that forest bathing trips significantly decrease anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue scores.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Alleviates mental fatigue
According to Dr Latif: "Encounters with nature help to alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind. Environments can increase or reduce stress - think about it: what we see, hear and experience at any moment can change our mood. Being in and around nature can reduce anger, fear and stress, and increase pleasant feelings. The visual access and being within a natural space helps to restore the mind’s ability to focus."
Lowers blood pressure
Dr Latif also suggests that a forest environment "lowers your blood pressure, reduces your levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and increases levels of serum adiponectin, a hormone which helps prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease."
Image courtesy of Forest Holidays
Decreases stress levels
Research has uncovered positive health effects of viewing natural landscapes on stress levels and speed of recovery from stress, faster physical recovery from illness and long-term overall improvement on people's health and wellbeing. Dr Latif says that "forests can help to lower blood pressure by reducing stress and helping to improve mental health. Just viewing a forest scene has been documented to have a very positive effect on psychological healing and recovering from stress, most particularly for individuals, who are from busy cities or urbanised environments."
Image courtesy of Lynne Evans / Alamy Stock Photo
Helps to improve relationships
Not only can the forest help to reduce stress and anxiety and improve symptoms of depression, it can also help to improve our relationships. Dr Latif says: "Connecting with the environment makes us more relaxed as human beings, more energised and more focused on those things in life that are more important to us. Nature will make us appreciate humanity more, particularly those who mean something to us and whom we may have neglected or taken for granted in the past."
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