“Being in contact with nature is like coming out of a pressure cooker,” states Yaritza Castro, a social worker, as a description of the effect that fresh air, plants, and water have on the physical and emotional wellbeing of people of all ages.
Activate the happiness hormones
Castro assures that this contact with nature helps to manage stress. “Just spending a few minutes in a natural environment where you are exposed to sunlight lowers stress levels and boosts the endorphin and serotonin levels in your body (two of the so-called happiness hormones), thus increasing the sensation of overall wellbeing. Sunlight helps produce vitamin D, which in turn promotes serotonin,” explains Castro, who leads the health prevention and education program at APS Health, an organization that offers mental health services to Triple-S Salud and Triple-S Advantage members.
Scientific literature highlights the importance of being in contact with nature. Diverse studies conclude that, aside from improving your mood, it also improves your clarity of thought and overall mental health. Scientists attest that it does not matter if they are green spaces, beaches, lakes, or rivers; they all have the same effect. But best of all is that you gain benefits from it, regardless of the amount of time you spend outdoors.
Castro points out that even if you have mobility problems or do not have easy access to outdoor spaces, you can benefit from having a green or relaxation corner in your house or apartment. “It may be that you have a small planter of succulents and, at some point of the day, you receive natural light, you could complement this with relaxing music or a recording of sounds from nature. Every person is different, and you can search for the most appropriate option for your situation. What is most important is to disconnect and break out of your routine, so that this time is for you,” she comments.
Multiply the benefits with physical activity
Like contact with nature, physical activity also increases the production of happiness hormones, which also has a positive effect on pain management. Moreover, scientists have found that exercise can help manage depression, anxiety, and dementia, as well as contribute to maintaining mental health as you age. This is possible because physical activity directly affects the brain, making some regions of the brain increase their volume and help create new neurons and connections in the areas that have to do with memory, emotion regulation, and learning.
Castro explains that even persons with movement limitations can benefit from exercising through gentle movements while sitting on a chair.
The social worker ends with encouraging advice for seeking professional help when symptoms of depression or any other condition affect your daily routine. “Asking for help is a sign of strength and the first step in the path towards recovery,” she assures.
- Interview with Yaritza Castro, social worker and Team Leader, APS Health