We’ve often heard that getting out in the sun can improve our moods. Scientific evidence supports this idea. Today, physicians are prescribing time in nature to patients, especially those with mental health challenges.
What is this nature pill and how can it help you?
What is the nature pill?
In the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns, doctors saw a surge in people suffering from mental health issues. That’s because spending too much time indoors can cause these challenges. Traditionally, physicians have prescribed medication such as antidepressants for these patients.
However, today a growing number of doctors are handing out a new prescription: the nature pill. They are prescribing time outdoors to people suffering from anxiety, depression, and even obesity. These scripts provide recommendations for simple outdoor activities, including what to do, how often, and when to start.
Why is this trend becoming popular? When doctors advise patients to exercise, they get mixed results. However, when a formal script with nature-based activities is prescribed, patients are more likely to comply.
This trend is not just limited to doctors. Organizations like Park Rx America encourage people with chronic disease to add outdoor activities to their treatment to help patients improve their outlook as they fight disease.
What exactly are the benefits of spending time in nature?
How nature affects mental health
Today, science tells us that just spending time in nature improves our mental health. Psychological research has uncovered multiple benefits:
- Green spaces appear to improve attention in students and people in general, compared to urban settings.
- Time spent in nature has been linked to better memory skills as well as the ability to process multiple ideas at once. This improves critical thinking skills.
- Nature also seems to lift mood, even during dull tasks.
Nature may help people with mental health problems as well. Ecotherapy, that is, a psychological therapy included with time spent outside, benefits people with mild depression. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition where people suffer depression at certain times of the year. Spending time in sunlight can often counteract this issue.
Time outside may even reduce harmful psychological behaviors, such as repetitive thoughts. And nature often has a calming effect on people. Excessive screen time, for example, is linked to depression. However, stepping away from your desk for a walk outside can help clear your head.
Spending time outside can benefit your brain, emotions, and mental health. Is it good for your physical health too?
How time in nature can benefit physical health
Nature can benefit our well-being even when we are undergoing medical procedures. One study showed that patients who had a view of trees from their hospital beds coped with post-operative pain better than those who did not. They recovered more rapidly and were sent home sooner.
And time spent in the sun can provide much-needed vitamin D for our bodies too. However, it’s important to keep your sun exposure within safe limits. Use sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and keep covered if you’re going to spend a long time in the sun.
Is the nature pill alternative medicine?
You might be wondering if this nature pill is an alternative medicine remedy. Let’s explore the differences between traditional and alternative medicine.
Traditional medicine is more familiar to most people. It tends to hone in on a specific organ, which is why your general physician may refer you to a specialist. Practitioners are board-certified and able to prescribe pharmaceutical treatments for physical or mental disorders.
Surgery and medical devices are also part of traditional medicine offerings. These also required board-certified surgeons or specialists.
Alternative medicine, on the other hand, typically takes a more holistic approach. The body is viewed as a whole, so illness can be connected to any issue you are having.
Many alternative approaches to medicine have a cultural basis, rather than coming from official scientific certifications. They include:
- Chiropractic medicine treats based on the connections of the body’s major structures, such as bones and ligaments.
- Biomedical approach using supplements or detox practices.
- Treatment through nutrition such as targeted diets.
While traditional medicine is commonly accepted, more people are using alternative medicine. Many people — including physicians — are combining both types of treatments to give patients the best chance of success.
Both traditional and alternative practitioners today are prescribing the nature pill for their patients. With a basis in both science and as a cultural remedy, the great outdoors is a good choice no matter what sort of medicine you choose.
When you can’t access nature
While a hike in the woods is a great way to relieve stress, it’s not a realistic choice much of the time. Whether you are at work or in a lockdown scenario, you may not be able to get outside. And inclement weather will keep you inside as well.
The good news is that research indicates that just viewing or listening to nature seems can have an uplifting effect on mood as well. When you can’t get outdoors, try these solutions:
- Use pictures of natural landscapes, on your desk or your screensaver.
- Play soothing sounds, such as ocean waves.
- Surround yourself with low-maintenance plants and fresh flowers.
Additional ways to improve your mental health
While the nature pill is a great way to improve your mental health, there are other simple changes you can make as well. Exercise, healthy food choices, and a full night’s sleep are good habits you should develop over time.
You should also include mindful living habits such as these:
Try to be more present in the moment. This is especially critical when you are with the people you care about. Often, we are highly distracted by our phones or other tech. Try turning off your phone when you are with others or when you are alone. (It’s ok to be inaccessible for a few hours!)
Another excellent way to live mindfully is to practice the art of daily gratitude. Every day, think of three things you are grateful to have in your life. This can be as simple as being thankful that you woke up today! Get into the habit of practicing gratitude at the same time every day to build this habit.
Exposure to nature can help ease physical and mental health challenges brought on by screen time, isolation, and too much time indoors. It’s no wonder that doctors today are prescribing this nature pill. Spending time outside can ease stress, worry, and anxiety and should be part of everyone’s routine.
Are you overwhelmed? Are you concerned about the wellbeing of a loved one who spends all their time behind a screen? Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on how we can best help you or book online now.