Mental Fitness

Mental Fitness Strategies for Earth Day!

By: Rebecca Chen

Published | Apr 18, 2019

Mental Health_Nature

Do you know what it feels like when “You’re in the zone?” “The Zone” refers to times we’re focused, thinking clearly, reacting appropriately, and confidently making decisions. Often, when we’re stressed, it can be easy to overthink and become overwhelmed. Being able to get into the zone at any given moment is an important stress management tool. It helps us perform well even when we’re under a lot of pressure.

If you have a toolkit full of regulation techniques, it can help you relax and reduce the intensity of your moods. An example of a regulation technique commonly used in stressful situations by paramedics, firefighters, and police officers is strategic breathing. With more oxygen and focusing on counting your breathing pace, the intensity of your fight or flight response reduces.

In celebration of Earth Day 2019, we would like to suggest a few simple behavioural strategies with an enviro-mental twist!

Research shows that interacting with the natural world around us is extremely beneficial for our mental health. In fact, simply taking time to be in nature increases our general happiness and well-being. You can even find nature within urban settings: a houseplant, a dandelion growing in a crack in a sidewalk, birds, or sun through a window.

Behavioral Strategy #1: Going for a Walk

Going for a walk or doing other forms of mild/moderate exercises is a proven way to relax. In the Starling Community, roughly 39% of members indicate that this is a favourite way to recharge their batteries!

Benefits of walks outdoors include improvement in cholesterol and blood pressure. Going for a walk also improves mental well-being and reduces stress by over 10%. A study by Lancet Psychiatry shows that taking walks can also help prevent depression. Researchers looked at data from a million people for over four years. They found that those who exercised reported 43% fewer bad mental health days than people who didn’t exercise. Those who participated in more intensive forms of exercise (eg. cycling) experienced the largest reduction in bad mental health days.

Researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is a brain region that is active during rumination and repetitive negative thoughts. In addition, they found that calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This calms the body’s fight-or-flight response.

Behavioral Strategy #2: Read in Nature

Reading is yet another popular way to relax. In the Starling Community, roughly 15% report that this is one of their top ways to recharge their batteries!

Ever feel guilty for getting lost in a good book? Turns out it may actually be a good thing, as reading for pleasure has a positive impact on mental health and well-being. The Reading Agency, a charity whose mission is to inspire people to read more, found that reading for pleasure often results in better communication between parents and children. It can also increase self-esteem and reduce anxiety and stress. In fact, readers are 10% more likely to report good self-esteem than non-readers. Another study found that readers are happier with their lives; those who read for just 30 minutes a week were 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction.

Taking your reading outside on a warm sunny day can bring further mental health benefits. Staying indoors under artificial lighting for many hours at a time may be encouraging a form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) year-round. There is strong support for the positive role that sunlight plays on our mental health; studies show that people tend to have higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days as opposed to cloudy ones, leading to better moods, and higher feelings of satisfaction and calmness.

Behavioral Strategy #3: Gardening

For those of you who are looking for a new hobby this summer, we suggest gardening! While this relaxation tool and method of recharge isn’t as portable as the others, it is widely believed that gardening and nurturing plants help to improve our mental health. In general, people are happier when they spend time focusing on the needs of something outside themselves, and evidence shows that taking care of living things builds self-esteem.

Horticulture Therapy is based on the understanding that caring for another living thing and watching it flourish gives people confidence and a sense of purpose and empowerment. A study at a juvenile rehabilitation center showed that Horticulture Therapy helped students view themselves more positively and better manage their emotions and behaviour. While gardening outdoors isn’t accessible to everyone, research does show that being outside as opposed to inside lowers our levels of stress. It helps us feel positive and fully restored. In fact, many studies show evidence that gardeners live longer and are less stressed!

We hope you have a very Happy Earth Day! If these enviro-mental behavioural strategies aren’t for you, we challenge you to get creative. Share what strategies you try below!

Want to find your own set of behavioural strategies or learn more about behavioural strategies and “The Zone”?

Log in now to check out the following Starling sessions to explore these concepts further: “Behavioural Strategies”, “The Zone”, “Mood Shifts”, and “Identifying Triggers”.

Rebecca Chen

Rebecca is Starling Minds' Community Manager. She is passionate about normalizing the discussions around mental health by creating a safe space to bring people together in support of one another.

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