The way you spend time out in nature can affect how much your physical, emotional and mental health will benefit from it. If you’re getting outside to relax, relieve stress or anxiety, focus your mind, or improve your health and well-being, try some of these tips to make it a more mindful experience.
There are undeniable benefits for your mental health when you spend time in nature, like lower stress and better memory.1 But if you're usually glued to a screen – computer, TV, or any other kind – you may have forgotten exactly how relaxing in nature works.
Don’t give up, hug a tree or two, and head for home. There are plenty of other ways to immerse yourself in nature and have fun while you're doing it.
Here are 10 relaxing nature activities that will rejuvenate your mind, from the simple to the life-changing.
1) Savor the Scenery
Movies beaming with CGI on 4K televisions dazzle our imaginations, but you won’t always find the most mind-blowing spectacles on a screen. When was the last time you got up early to watch the sunrise, or ventured to the nearest hilltop to watch it set? The scenery will mentally prepare you for the morning or help you de-stress after a busy day so you’re ready for the night.2
2) Wander the Wilderness
Walking is good for you, but not all walks are created equal. Cruising the urban streets doesn’t provide the same mental boost as hiking a local trail or feeling the sandy beach between your toes. You don’t have to have a specific destination in mind, either – your goal isn't to hike X miles, but to aimlessly immerse yourself in the natural world around you.3 The Japanese call this “forest bathing” and it can rejuvenate a weary mind.4
3) Meditate on the Music
And not the kind playing in your headphones. Leave your electronics behind and listen to the melodies nature has to offer: babbling brooks, bird songs, wind whistling through the trees and the scurrying of unseen animals through the canopy. It’s a lot more relaxing than the honking horns and text message alerts you’re used to, and it offers the opportunity to practice some meditative mindfulness in your tranquil surroundings.5
4) Pose in Paradise
Yoga offers many physical benefits, like stretching the body and building core strength. It relaxes you, too, but if you surround yourself with nature’s beauty, research shows you might up the flow of endorphins and take your yoga session to whole new levels.6 So try skipping the gym and make a park with a view your yoga studio.
5) Study in the Sunshine
If you have studying to do, or written material to ingest, leave the fluorescent lights behind and read in the light of the blue sky overhead. Natural environments can enhance cognitive abilities, like memory and problem solving.7 So if you want to retain more information for that big test at school or figure out how to win that important account at work, you might have a better shot surrounded by birds and trees than fellow students and chatty coworkers.
6) Pack a Picnic
Load a basket with your favorite healthy goodies and have lunch among the flora and fauna. Bring some companions along – a picnic is the perfect way to spend quality time with friends and family without the distractions of the modern-day world. And, nature makes socializing with other people easier, so it’s the perfect place to build stronger relationships with those you love.8
7) Sleep Beneath the Stars
Now you’re getting serious. Why not disconnect entirely for a couple of days and make nature your home? Camping lets you get further away than a simple day trip allows. (And maybe out of cell phone range. Forget Fear of Missing Out and try the Joy of Missing Out instead. #JOMO!) If roughing it isn’t your style, consider glamping, where you can maintain some of the creature comforts you love but still be away from it all.9 Just leave the high tech at home.
8) Simmer in a Spring
Hot springs have been shown to have healing effects on the body and mind, so traveling to one of nature’s jacuzzis is a great way to connect with the outdoors and soothe your soul.10 It’s not rocket science, either; even animals have figured it out. Snow monkeys in Japan seek springs to warm up and relieve stress in wintertime.11
And if all that goes well…
9) Begin a Bucket List
If the beauty of the forest or the crash of waves on the beach blew you away, there’s a lot more out there for you to explore. The colors of the Aurora Borealis, the heights of Kilimanjaro, the depths of the Grand Canyon. Make a list of the Natural Wonders you want to see, and plan how you’ll start crossing them off, one by one.12 Not only will the sight of these wonders leave you relaxed, you’ll be awe-inspired.
10) Opt for an Outdoor Office
If you’ve been thinking of a career change anyway, consider a role where four walls aren’t part of your nine-to-five. There are plenty of jobs that let you work outside all day long, like park rangers, farmers, adventure guides and environmental scientists.13 So if you feel like your current lifestyle isn’t offering up the opportunities to connect with the natural world you so love, consider making the outdoors your daily office.
It’s great to get out and #movemore outside, but make sure you #relaxmore, too.
- Start small by scheduling time with a friend to try one of the first three ideas. (They’re easy!)
- Then, plan a bigger trip with your companions-in-nature to go on a picnic or even a camping trip as the outdoors become a bigger part of your life.
Now take a deep, calming breath in nature, so you can be healthy for good!
1McMahan EA, Estes D. The effect of contact with natural environments on positive and negative affect: A meta-analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2015;10(6):507-519. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2014.994224.
2Brown DK, Barton JL, Gladwell VF. Viewing Nature Scenes Positively Affects Recovery of Autonomic Function Following Acute-Mental Stress. Environmental Science & Technology. 2013;47(11):5562-5569. doi:10.1021/es305019p.
3Li Q. Forest Bathing’ Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How to Do It. Time. May 1, 2018. http://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/. Accessed July 25, 2018.
4Hansen MM, Jones R, Tocchini K. Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. Miyazaki Y, Kobayashi H, Park S-A, Song C, eds. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2017;14(8):851. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080851.
5Gould van Praag C, Garfinkel SN, Sparasci O, et al. Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds. Scientific Reports. 2017;7(45273). doi: 10.1038/srep45273.
6Alpert YM. 4 Ways Practicing Yoga Outdoors Enhances It. Yoga Journal. April 10, 2015. https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/4-reasons-science-suggests-practicing-yoga-outdoors-enhances. Accessed July 25, 2018.
7Berman MG, Jonides J, Kaplan S. The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science. 2009;19(12):1207-12. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x
8Zhang JW, Piff PK, Iyer R, et al. An occasion for unselfing: Beautiful nature leads to prosociality. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 2014;37:61-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2013.11.008
911 Differences between Camping and Glamping. RVC Outdoor Destination website. http://rvcoutdoors.com/11-differences-between-camping-and-glamping/. Updated July 25, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2018.
10Rapoliene L, Razbadauskas A, Sąlyga J, Martinkenas A. Stress and Fatigue Management Using Balneotherapy in a Short-Time Randomized Controlled Trial. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2016(4):1-10. doi: 10.1155/2016/9631684
11Jiji K. Nagano’s snow monkeys bathe in hot springs to relieve stress, study says. The Japan Times. April 4, 2018. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/04/national/science-health/snow-monkeys-bathe-hot-springs-relieve-stress-japan-study-says/#.W1ihldJKiUl Accessed July 25, 2018.
12Hartshill, A. How many of these 39 natural wonders of the world have you been to? Matador Network website. https://matadornetwork.com/trips/many-39-natural-wonders-world/ May 14, 2014. Accessed July 25, 2018.
13La Kapro K. Top 10 Jobs For Nature Lovers. We Are Wildness website. https://wearewildness.com/top-10-jobs-for-nature-lovers/. Updated July 25, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2018.