The Philippines is blessed with a natural heritage that encompasses beaches, islands, mangroves, mountains, and forests. Do you know that being in nature is good for your mental health?
Numerous studies show that being with nature can improve your mood, reduce stress levels, and boost overall mental health. Spending time outdoors - especially in green spaces and forests - can calm one’s mind and relieve anxiety. In fact, there is now a growing movement towards “forest bathing” and “nature therapy” to deliberately seek out the outdoors, but even activities like gardening can yield mental health benefits.
The exact mechanism of nature’s benefits is not well known, but some scientists suggest that the sensory stimulation brought about by the environment beyond the visual - for instance, the sounds of wildlife; the cool temperature and the wind. Others suggest that the opportunity offered by nature to have a “change of environment” from one’s workplace, school, or urban community, is a contributory factors. Then there is a growing body of work, mainly from Japan, that suggests there are certain molecules or substances from the forest that interact with the human body - including with our hormones and immune systems - leading to improved physical and mental health.
Regardless of the mechanism, it has been established by various researches that within minutes of being with nature, people can experience decreases in blood pressure and muscle tension; and that being with greenery is associated with reductions of cortisol (stress hormone) levels. During the pandemic, researches have also found that nature helped many people cope with the new stressors.
All of the above should encourage us to spend more time outdoors as part of a healthy lifestyle. There are mountains, parks, and other nature spots located in all corners of the Philippines (and the world). Beyond established tourist destinations, simply being surrounded with trees in urban areas - or even having plants and pets inside your home - can induce the kind of calmness and relaxation that many of us need. By turning nature visits into social activities (e.g. time with family and friends), one can maximize their benefit while sharing it to others.
Of course, it is not always easy to access nature, so it is also important in the long run, to support initiatives to bring nature to the people (i.e. having more parks), while also supporting measures to bring people to nature (i.e. by making it easier for people to visit our forests, mountains, and other nature spots). Furthermore, given how our natural heritage is under threat, we need to make sure that it is protected for the generations to come - so we can continue to benefit from nature and its ability to improve our mental health.