Anxiety, depression, and addiction have all become increasingly common in recent decades. Mental health and addiction are closely linked as well. Mental illness can lead to addiction and vice versa. For people recovering from addiction, stress and anxiety are common relapse triggers. Staying mentally healthy requires a holistic approach that involves positive social connection, healthy diet, regular exercise, and according to a growing body of research, reconnecting with nature.

Spending time in nature has consistently been shown to reduce levels of stress and anxiety. One study showed participants images of either natural scenes or of built environments for ten minutes. They were then asked to complete tasks intended to induce mental stress. The participants why spent 10 minutes looking at pictures of natural scenery were found to have much higher activation in the parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” part of the autonomic nervous system that counterbalances the “fight or flight” stress response.

The effect is especially pronounced when looking at awe-inspiring natural images. One study showed participants images either of mundane natural scenes, such as parks or trees, or awe-inspiring scenes, such as canyons or mountain ranges. The group that looked at awe-inspiring scenes reported greater improvements in their mood and the participants evinced greater pro-social values. The researchers don’t know exactly why this happens, but it could be that awe-inspiring scenes change our perspective. Compared to the awesome power of nature, our own problems appear insignificant.

Although just seeing natural images, especially awe-inspiring images, can reduce stress and anxiety, actually getting out into nature is even better. One study found that hearing natural sounds can speed your recovery from a stressful situation. Another study found that walking in the forest decreases stress hormones and increases the immune system’s natural killer cells as well as anticancer proteins. Participants who walked in the city did not experience similar benefits.

While we don’t understand all the mechanisms that make nature so soothing to humans, it does make intuitive sense. From an evolutionary perspective, cities are like an alien environment. Humans have only been concentrated in cities for just over 100 years, compared to 100,000 years we’ve spent mostly in natural settings. While nature can occasionally be threatening, its shapes, colors, sounds, and smells are deeply familiar. Spending time in nature allows your mind to relax, even while your attention is drawn to your surroundings. This is why preservation of natural areas as well as incorporating green spaces into cities is so important.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.