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Why Being Outside Is Good For Your Mental Health

I don’t like indoor kids playgrounds. In fact, I loathe them. There, I said it. When my children hand me a party invite for an indoor play centre on a weekend, I quietly die inside. Bonus dread if both kids take up an entire Sunday with multiple indoor parties. Triple dread if I am expected to stay the whole time.

It’s not the screaming kids and unidentifiable smells at these places that bother me so much, it’s the thought of being couped up indoors that ruins my weekend. If I'm going to have a day off work with my kids, I want to be enjoying it predominantly outdoors.

Many of us who grew up pre-2000’s probably remember our own childhood full of outside adventures. If it wasn’t playing with pets or making leafy-mud concoctions in our own big backyard, our fun would be down the local park, riding our bikes, making cubbies in some fallen trees or making sandcastles down the beach.

We now live in an age where that doesn’t happen so much, both for kids growing up and for us adults. We can work at home, connect at home, learn at home, shop at home, entertain ourselves at home and date at home. We needn’t leave the house.

And there lies the problem. We don’t have to if we don’t want to, and many of us are getting used to it. Many kids are growing up not knowing the benefits of spending time outdoors. And many adults have become accustomed to living their lives indoors. Not going outside much is becoming normal.

I'm not that old, so to see this rapid shift in our lifestyle, from spending most of our free time outside, to one of spending it inside, is a little bit scary.

I am sure our ancestors weren’t sitting around in their caves all day. They wouldn’t have had the time nor the energy to hunt deer, gather berries, island hop or evolve if that was the case.

Us humans are wired to live in natural surroundings, but many of us barely spend any time in them. Kids are spending more than the recommended 2 hours involved in screen time and we can presume it’s a lot more for adults.

So if you're feeling not quite yourself after being stuck indoors all day, this is the reason for it. You are not supposed to be indoors all day.

Those of you who are outdoorsy types might be scoffing at the thought of people not spending time outdoors. But let me tell you it is becoming more common. I have worked with thousands of people, and have noticed that many people who are anxious, depressed and stressed, are not spending enough time outdoors.

When they then start incorporating outside time into their lives, positive changes tend to follow.

Spending time outdoors in nature has a multitude of positive effects including relieving stress and anxiety. It restores energy, improves concentration, increases creativity and improves mental health in general.

This doesn’t mean that if we can’t spend a whole day bushwalking that we can’t reap the benefits of nature. Research has shown that city dwellers living near more green space reported less mental distress, than those that live with a lack of natural surroundings. Other studies have shown lower incidences of conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, anxiety and depression when living closer to natural areas.

Even pictures of the natural world can calm people down (those waterfall pictures on dentists walls are no coincidence).

Our brain is like a muscle, it works hard and it needs rest. When we’re out in nature we’re giving our brain a break in surroundings that elicit calm. Gaming, television watching, flicking around on social media and surfing the net in our spare time does allow this.

So, if you are not feeling yourself lately, whether too stressed, anxious or depressed, do your brain a favour. Give yourself some time in nature. Trek out in the bush, eat lunch under a tree, ride around a lake or stare out at the ocean.

If that’s too much, then take a break and lie on your backyard lawn and look up at the sky.

Chances are it will make a difference.

And if you are wondering why I am not at the next indoor birthday party on a Sunday, don’t be offended, you’ll find me down the beach.

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