As a psychiatrist, I have seen the positive mental health impacts of consistently spending time in nature, including lower stress levels, improvements in mood and a boost in overall mental well-being. In central Ohio, one of the best and most convenient places I have found to experience the benefits of nature is in the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks.
A natural stress relief
One of the main benefits of spending time outdoors is stress relief. Research has shown that spending time in nature can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is linked to a range of health problems including anxiety, depression and heart disease. By spending time outdoors, we can lower our cortisol levels and reduce the impact of stress on our mental health.
Additionally, spending time in nature can increase serotonin levels, which is essential for regulating mood and promoting feelings of happiness. Exercise is a known mood booster, and our Metro Parks provide ample opportunities for physical activities — hiking, biking and jogging are all great ways to get the heart pumping and the endorphins flowing.
Feel the awe
Nature also has an ability to connect us to something greater than ourselves. When we immerse ourselves in the natural world — whether it be by hiking through a forest, watching a warbler flit through the treetops, or simply sitting in a park — we can feel a deep sense of awe and wonder. It’s as if we are tapping into a power that is much larger and more profound than our individual selves.
Time spent outdoors can serve as a reminder of our place in the world and of the interconnectedness of all living things. By communing with nature, we can cultivate a sense of humility, gratitude and appreciation for the world, and open ourselves up to a greater sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.
Let nature recharge your inner batteries
Nature provides a respite from the noise and chaos of modern life. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by screens, social media and information overload, parks can provide a space to unplug and recharge. By disconnecting from technology and immersing oneself in nature, we can reduce the impact of sensory overload on our mental health.
Scenic landscapes and natural beauty can facilitate the practice of mindfulness and mindfulness-based meditation, allowing us to connect with our surroundings and be present in the moment. When we meditate in nature, we can focus on the sounds of birds chirping, the rustling of leaves in the wind, and the feeling of the sun on our faces. By focusing on these sensations, we can quiet our minds and cultivate a sense of inner peace and calm.
Tackling social isolation
Social isolation is a major risk factor for mental health problems and visiting green spaces can provide a place where individuals can connect with others and build community. Whether it’s through organized activities like group hikes and birding walks, or simply by striking up a conversation on a bench, the Metro Parks can provide a space for individuals to connect with others and build relationships.
My treasure hunts in the parks
Personally, I view each of my Metro Parks experiences to be a “treasure hunt,” as I always see or learn something new. It also helps me temporarily let go of life’s worries and be present in the moment. When I am standing in the middle of the vast prairie at Battelle Darby Creek, or craning my neck to see the tops of the pines at Walnut Woods, or looking out over the beautiful vista on the Overlook Trail at Highbanks, it is inevitable that my own concerns are put into perspective when experiencing nature’s magnitude.
The Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks provide a range of benefits to improve mental well-being. They provide a peaceful and calming environment that can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, increase focus and creativity, improve physical health, and increase social connections. I highly recommend you check out the benefits for yourself!