We all experience times when we’re just not ourselves. Our moods are low, we feel like crap, and we’re just… down. If you’re feeling like this right now, there’s one thing you can do that’s scientifically proven to make you feel better: get outside.
Spending time in nature makes us feel good. According to research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, it’s true. Nothing boosts our mood naturally quite like leaving our house, breathing some fresh air, and spending time in nature.
Not only is it easy, it happens quickly. According to study author Katherine D. Arbuthnott of Campion College, the effect of deciding to spending time outdoors on our moods is almost immediate. “The findings of emotional health benefits are particularly interesting as they seem to be observed very easily and quickly,” she explained. “My students and I decided to push the boundaries of this rapid effect to see how quickly we could observe changes, and whether these effects are appreciably changed with longer exposures.”
Even five minutes is enough to get a boost. Arbuthnott revealed that in her study of 123 students, it only took about five minutes of sitting on a park bench on average to noticeably lift the participants’ moods. In comparison to participants who were sitting indoors in a windowless room, there was a very clear difference in happiness levels.
You don’t have to be outside forever to feel the effects. The research showed that while five minutes in nature lifted mood, spending longer than that didn’t give any more of an increase than the shorter time. That means even if you’re short on time, even you likely have a couple of minutes to spare to breathe in some fresh air.
Of course, there are some limitations. As Arbuthnott explains, “There are many details of these health effects yet to discover. Our study examined only short exposures to nature (5 & 15 minutes) in a small urban park. It would also be useful to know whether much longer exposures, or time spent in larger natural areas would influence our emotions differently. We also know almost nothing about how long these emotional boosts last. We do know, however, that these benefits are observed in all seasons, as several of our studies have been conducted in winter.”
Real depression, SAD, and other mental illnesses are a whole different ball game. While going outside can help to lift your mood when you’re feeling a little blah, it’s worth noting that true mental illness doesn’t apply here, and you should seek professional help from a therapist or your doctor if you find that depression, SAD, or others are a real problem for you.
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