Engage With Nature to Reduce Anxiety
I love getting time to myself in nature. Whether it’s going for a hike, bike ride, or even driving through a forest, finding time in a natural setting away from more populated areas is very soothing and enjoyable for me. When I lived in Chicago, it took more than an hour’s drive to get to more isolated hiking areas, so I didn’t really get out into nature all that much. In Nashville, there are great places to get into nature that are much closer, and I’ve noticed just how impactful that is for finding time to recenter and rejuvenate myself after a challenging week. Spending time in nature might not be your thing, but I’m going to make the case here that if you’re trying to reduce anxiety, it can be a productive method to try out.
Does nature reduce anxiety?
Although I have enjoyed my time in nature, I don’t want to overstate the evidence because of my anecdotal experience, but there is some evidence suggesting a connection between time in nature and anxiety. One study titled, « The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety », found that connection to nature was associated with lower levels of anxiety1. Another study, « Mindfulness in Nature Enhances Connectedness and Mood », found that walking outdoors was associated with greater nature relatedness and better mood compared to walking indoors2. Additionally, individuals who also used mindfulness during an outdoor walk showed less negative affect and stronger connectedness with nature compared to outdoor walkers who didn’t use mindfulness.
These studies provide some evidence that spending time in nature can produce psychological benefits, but it is not entirely clear from them whether spending time in nature can reduce clinical anxiety, though the results are promising. As with many ideas I present here, spending time in nature is one of many strategies you can try to reduce anxiety, and there isn’t necessarily a single way to get your nature time. Below, I discuss a few ways you can try engaging with nature to help reduce your anxiety.
Let’s get natural
- Pick a spot. Unfortunately, finding a great spot to engage with nature can be difficult, so we don’t want to be too picky. When I lived in Chicago, I couldn’t really find areas that were secluded and mostly forest, but I was able to find an awesome park near my apartment that I could walk to pretty easily. Although we might expect the benefits of time in nature to vary depending on the type of environment you choose, finding a place you can get to relatively easily and consistently is important for developing the habit, so don’t be too picky.
- Pick a schedule. Once you’ve got your spot, you’ve got to decide how often you want to go there. For me, walking to the park ended up being a daily practice for me because I felt so rejuvenated every time I went. This may not be feasible depending on your schedule or distance from your spot, so schedule a regular time that works for you — starting and sustaining is the goal.
- Pick your carrot. I’d like to think we all love nature and engaging with it is reward enough, but if we’re being honest, that’s not always true. For me, a big draw of walking to the park wasn’t just the natural environment, but the number of dogs I got to see playing there. I love and miss my dog back home, so seeing other dogs playing together gives me a huge boost. For me, the dogs at the park were a big reward for making it there, and I think it kept me going consistently in a way I might not have done otherwise. While my « carrot » was dogs, yours may be the coffee shop near your nature spot or a cool shop nearby. Finding a reward that is close by your nature spot can be a great way to motivate yourself to go there regularly.
I hope this discussion has prompted you to think more about ways you can get out and find a great nature spot for yourself. Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts in the comments below.
1. Martyn, P. & Brymer, E., « The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety. » Journal of Health Psychology, 2016.
2. Nisbet, E.K. et al., « Mindfulness in Nature Enhances Connectedness and Mood. » Ecopsychology, June 2019.