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The Role of Light in Mental Health: Exploring Nature Therapy & Nature Walks

The Role of Light in Mental Health: Exploring Nature Therapy & Nature Walks

One important avenue to accomplishing good mental health is to find ways to connect more with nature and its many benefits. Light therapy has long been a part of the biomedical landscape, with its application proven in a range of clinical settings. Emerging evidence suggests that natural light and nature also plays a significant role in our psychological well-being, and perhaps even more so.

Research suggests that exposure to natural light has many restorative effects, such as faster recovery from fatigue and improved sleep quality. For instance, Danish researchers have found that spending four hours a day in natural light for three days can promote improved sleep quality and positive effects upon mood.

Additionally, nature walks have been associated with increased levels of physical activity, improved concentration and mental clarity, better executive functioning, and, ultimately, improved overall mental health. Specifically, exposing oneself to a nature walk can have a positive impact on self-esteem and reduce symptoms of depression. A study conducted at Stanford University found that, in comparison to urban walks, nature hikes yielded significant reductions in rumination, or reappraising past distress and negative emotions and mindful meditation.

The relationship between nature and mental health can be further understood through the practice of Nature Therapy. This type of therapy seeks to use activities in nature as sources of relaxation and respite. Nature Therapy activities include traditional forms of therapy, like walks or hikes, as well as more creative activities, such as crafting items out of natural materials like leaves and stones. Nature Therapy seeks to reconnect us to our natural environment and explore its healing potential through our senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell). In fact, recent research suggests that engaging in Nature Therapy activities stimulates the release of the brain's reward neurotransmitter, called dopamine. Also, activities in nature can help reduce rumination, increase mental clarity and improve overall wellbeing.

In addition to improving mental health, spending time in nature can also be seen as a form of preventive medicine. According to the World Health Organization, mental health conditions, such as depression, are a major cause of disability and account for an incredible 18% of the global burden of diseases. Nature Therapy has been proposed as a preventative measure, with a number of studies suggesting that engaging in Nature Therapy activities may result in improved mental wellbeing and reduced stress and anxiety levels.

Overall, the evidence is overwhelming that spending time in nature, combined with light exposure, plays an important role in improving mental health. Engaging in activities such as Nature Therapy and Nature Walks, or simply taking moments to pause and observe your natural environment, can lead to greater levels of wellbeing and relaxation, reducing both physical and mental stress.

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