The connection between good mental health and natural settings is widely known. The Japanese even have a term for it: shinrin-yoku (“taking in the forest air,” or “forest bathing”). Simply observing nature can reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, blood pressure, and heart rate and increase activity in areas of the brain associated with empathy and altruism – the same areas that are more active when we are emotionally stable or expressing a positive outlook.
According to Swiss educator Jeff Baxter, research “Findings show that nature is an effective means of motivating therapeutic interaction and communication for children with anxiety, anger issues, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.“
A study of 20,000 people by the European Centre for Environment & Human Health found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. The study, published last June, showed there were no benefits for people who didn’t meet a two-hour threshold. The effects were robust across different occupations, ethnic groups, people from rich and poor areas, and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
Ok, so two hours a week. Maybe it sounds like a lot, but don’t stress. No pressure. You can build up to that goal. And your little one will love it! Their bodies need the movement and their soul needs the healing, calming power of trees, rocks and flowers and even those kind of obnoxious birds. They’re all there for a reason.
There are beautiful state parks that can be visited an hour or so away from most cities. They are free or at least budget-friendly and often have programs for families to help you familiarize yourself with nature. And don’t forget - a lot of them have camping grounds. Talk about hours and hours in nature! Alright, alright. No rush. Step by step. Check out Reserve America for a directory of public parks with forest trails or hiking near lakes and rivers.