The Family Counseling Center Offers Advice on How Nature Impact Mental Health
The Family Counseling Center of Fulton County’s staff is sharing insight on how being in nature can positively impact mental health, including anxiety and depression. Studies from around the globe have shown that even as little as 10 or 20 minutes a day spent outdoors can reduce levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, allowing your brain to “calm” or relax itself because it is away from distractions and stressors.
There are many ways an individual can access the benefits of nature including:
Taking it slow
Elena Mazza, PhD, MSW, a Clinic Supervisor at The Family Counseling Center, recommends people who are looking to get outside take it slow and steady to begin with. “Stepping outside, stopping and looking around you, recognizing that you are in a safe and comfortable environment and saying, ‘Everything is okay right now,’ can help to center you,” says Mazza. “Sometimes we need a break from being around people and something as small as standing next to a big tree and appreciating the way a tree grows over the course of its life or the way the leaves rustle in the wind – it helps you see your life and the world a little differently.”
Michael Pitagno, (L)MHC, a therapist at the Center, suggests bringing your attention to the smallest details, learning more about the space in which you live your life. “I love plant identification,” says Pitagno. “It makes you pause and see the details of life. I have to stop, look up the plant – maybe something as common as a flower or a weed – and explore how and why the plant is there. For example, trillium can be seen all over but it takes seven years to sprout and creates only one seed pod. That’s incredible odds for one plant to flower and be beautiful. It starts to put life in perspective and builds an appreciation for everything.”
Mazza adds that gardening has a similar effect. “If you garden, you get to watch it grow before your very eyes. You start the season by digging in the dirt, you plant seeds or starter plants, and then you experience its life and beauty. When you are out in the garden, or taking care of your potted plants, you take the time to focus and enjoy what is around you.”
Do something simple but difficult
Pitagno enjoys doing tough things. “If I am climbing a high peak or going on a long hike – it’s a simple thing: get from point A to point B. Doing something hard or stressful comes with a feeling of relief. It helps to put daily life into perspective. Rarely do you get to celebrate if you haven’t had to go through something tough.” Time alone out in nature away from distractions like phones and social media forces you to spend time with yourself, an experience that can be both scary and deeply rewarding.
There are many places within a few steps where someone can enjoy nature. It can be out on an apartment’s porch, in a local park, or out farther afield such as the area’s many lakes and hiking trails. Mazza adds that no matter what you do outdoors you should always ensure your safety including proper sun protection, bug spray, and a bottle of water. “Anxiety can feel like its own energy source,” states Pitagno. “Getting outside and tapping into that energy in a healthy way helps to create self-reliant coping skills and releases the anxiety a little.”