We spend so much of our time amidst man-made structures and devices that it’s easy to forget how good it can feel to just be out in nature. The chatter of wildlife and the scent of soil have a soothing effect on us and help relieve stress and worry.
These effects are more than anecdotal. Studies have proven the benefits that engaging with nature can have on our mental well-being. We also know that these positive effects correlate with the time we spend in green spaces - the bigger our “dose” of nature, the better we feel both mentally and physically.
There’s no better way to get a big dose of nature than a camping trip. Camping allows you to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life; to truly recharge in an environment free from stressors. Here are just a few of the mental health benefits of camping.
Immersing Yourself in Nature Reduces Anxiety
In Japan, there’s a practice called shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” It entails taking time out of your week to bask under the cool shade of a forest canopy. The idea isn’t simply to place yourself in a natural environment - you must immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the forest, engaging all of your senses. Shinrin-yoku practitioners swear by its positive effect on their mental well-being; the practice was even widely promoted by the Japanese government as a solution for techno-stress and anxiety.
There’s scientific data to back up these anecdotal claims. A two-day study on middle-aged individuals from Taiwan found that shinrin-yoku greatly reduced anxiety and negative mood-states in participants. By the time the study was over, participants felt more vigorous, relaxed, and energized.
You probably have a camping itinerary of all the fun activities you want to do while you’re out in the wild - have to make the most of your time, after all! But don’t forget to take a break once in a while. Allow yourself to just sit back and enjoy the scenery. Listen to the chirping of birds and skittering squirrels. Breathe in the aroma of fresh soil.
Natural Light Can Improve Your Mood and Demeanor
We have become overly reliant on artificial lighting. It’s all around us, from the neutral lighting of our office spaces to the cold glow of our phone screens. At the same time, we’re getting less and less exposure to natural sunlight.
Make the most of your camping trip by soaking up the sun. Exposure to sunlight encourages our bodies to produce serotonin, which improves your mood helps you relax. One study found that exposure to direct sunlight could potentially reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Sunlight also provides vitamin D, which can improve bone health and your immune system.
Sunlight is refreshing and revitalizing, but take care not to overexpose yourself to the sun’s rays. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen before going out, and stay close to areas with shade, especially if you’re going to be under the harsh midday sun.
Better Sleep Helps You Process Your Emotions
Be sure to make “getting better sleep” a priority on your camping trip. The quality of your sleep affects your brain’s ability to process emotions. This affects your mood, demeanor, and even your risk of suicidal or self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.
One of the best things you can do is reduce your screen time, especially before bed. At night, your body produces a hormone called melatonin, which is responsible for regulating your biological clock. Just a few hours of looking at your tablet can lower your melatonin production by up to 22%. Remember: you’re out here to enjoy the great outdoors! Your phone is there for emergencies only.
Your choice of camp bedding can also have a big impact on the quality of your sleep. Most people will opt for some type of foam pad or air mattress and, as such, should consider how to stay warm on an air mattress.
Breathing in Fresh Air Makes You Happier
We all know the terrible impact air pollution can have on our lungs, but we tend to forget about its effects on our mental health. It stands to reason that breathing fresher air improves our physical health which in turn benefits our mental well-being.
A nationwide study in China found a potential link between clean air and hedonic happiness, which is the happiness derived from pleasure. That same study also found that air pollution is related to depressive symptoms.
We can’t directly affect the quality of the air where we live. This makes it all the more important for us to make opportunities to spend time out in nature, away from the pollution of cities and urban hubs.
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