Social Media Posts Reveal Connection Between Nature and Lower Levels of DepressionMay 28, 2021
If you look up #nature on Instagram, you’ll find over 631 million photos with that tag. There are sunsets, beaches, alpine forests, and underwater shots. The sheer volume of #nature photos speaks to the interest we have in seeing and sharing these photos of nature. For some people, the interest may lay in sharing their experiences with others through social media. But is there an actual link between nature and happiness?
According to a recent study that analyzed the content of photos on social media using artificial intelligence, researchers found an association between nature and happiness globally. People who posted pictures of nature on social media were more likely to be smiling in pictures, use hashtags like #fun, and convey a positive message in their captions. While of course there are mediating factors, like going on vacation, these results suggest that nature could have an influence on reducing levels of depression.
Why Do We Associate Nature with Happiness?
The team’s analysis of the photographs uploaded on social media revealed that photographs tagged as #fun, #vacations and #honeymoons are more likely to contain elements of nature such as plants, water and natural landscape as compared to photographs tagged #daily or #routines. This finding, which is consistent across different countries, provides global evidence of the biophilia hypothesis — human’s innate tendency to seek connection with nature — and implies a positive association between nature and fond memories in memorable events. Positive emotions have beneficial effects upon social processes, too like increasing trust, cooperation, and closeness with others. Since viewing nature appears to trigger positive emotions, it likely that viewing nature has a favorable effect on our social well-being.
In a 2015 study, 60 participants were asked to take a 50-minute walk in either a natural setting or an urban setting. Before and after the walk, the participants were assessed on their emotional state and on cognitive measures, such as how well they could perform tasks requiring short-term memory. Results showed that those who walked in nature experienced less anxiety, rumination (focused attention on negative aspects of oneself), and negative affect, as well as more positive emotions, in comparison to the urban walkers.
The team also found that the amount of nature one is exposed to plays a role in their life satisfaction. Countries that have more elements of nature in photographs tagged as #fun such as Costa Rica and Finland, for instance, possess higher life national satisfaction scores according to scores reported in the World Happiness Report 2019. Collectively, the findings suggest the importance of nature in contributing to emotional happiness, relaxation, and life satisfaction in communities worldwide.
The Effects of Nature on Mental Health
Studies have suggested that just 20 minutes of being outside a day, even just sitting down in the grass, can have health benefits, improving one’s energy, oxygen flow, and mood. This suggests that even low-impact activities outdoors can have the same effect as adventure activities.
It is no surprise that many people choose to step outside for a “quick breather” when feeling overwhelmed. While spending more time in nature doesn’t necessarily reduce one’s risk of experiencing depressive episodes, it can reduce the intensity of symptoms. There are also the physical benefits that often come with outdoor activities. When we are physically active, the brain releases endorphins which are “feel good” chemicals that increase our overall sense of wellbeing. Exercise can also help prevent and improve a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. When paired with therapeutic practices such as individual and group therapy, being in nature can help manage the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Nature can also have a positive impact on cognitive function as well. Experiments have found that being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attention control. There have also been studies that showed that students who had access to green spaces during school improved cognitive development and children who had views of green spaces showed better self control behaviors. These benefits can deepen further when participants feel a connection and actively participate in their nature activity. Looking through a window may help you relax, but when you mindfully engage in that interaction with nature you can begin to slow down racing thoughts and move past negative or distracting thoughts or worries.
Why Choose a Nature-Based Treatment Program?
Outdoor adventures offer the opportunity to help young adults discover themselves in a way that they simply can’t in our modern, distracted lives. By enrolling in an adventure therapy program, students are taught the fundamental skill set for each adventure activity, increasing their efficacy in the outdoors and allowing them to continue to engage in healthy outdoor pursuits after they transition from the program.
Wilderness therapy programs, like Trails Momentum, use nature as a form of depression treatment for young adults. As spending more time outside may feel like a huge adjustment for young adults who are socially isolated and/or sedentary, we offer a unique treatment model that combines time on wilderness expeditions with time at our base camp, where students sleep in cabins. Even at base camp, many of the day’s activities occur outside.
Our campus is situated on the banks of a lake with a waterfall that cascades into a stream. Here technology and the hustle and bustle of modern life and its distractions are left far behind. It is also the launch pad for adventures. Students participate in paddleboarding, lakeside yoga and enjoy hiking, mountain biking and backpacking on the miles of surrounding trails in the nearby national forests.
We believe that there is a difference between conducting therapy outdoors and using nature as a form of therapy. From hiking trails on our property to doing water sports in our campus lake to growing food in our gardens, we teach students that many of the coping skills they are looking for are already in their natural environment.
Young adults are experiencing a time in their life that is full of new experiences and challenges. For some, this can be exciting. For others, this can be overwhelming. As parents, we hope that we have set our children up for success when they step out into the world, but some young adults may benefit from a transitional independent living program where they can continue to build their life skills and experiences with the support of a clinically trained staff and a community of peers that understand their struggles. Our adventure programming offers students a variety of pathways to help them develop their skills, form new friendships, take on leadership roles, and step out of their comfort zone. Through adventure activities like rock climbing, hiking, and fly fishing our students learn crucial life skills like problem solving, communication, time management, and personable responsibility.
Trails Momentum Can Help
Trails Momentum is a wilderness therapy program for teens and young adults ages 18-25 to transition to independence and improved self-awareness. The program uses adventure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a strength-based approach. It is a small and nurturing community that focuses on goals of improved self-regulation and overall functioning for young adults.
Our beautiful location, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a place of hope and healing. Unlike some other wilderness therapy programs for young adults, we follow a hybrid model, where you split time between living on campus and being off-site for the wilderness and adventure activities. Here, technology and the distractions of modern life are left far behind. It is where students begin the work to find what they have been searching for. Trails Momentum gives students the skills they need to lead healthier, happier lives. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 877-296-8711 for more information about adventure therapy.