Getting outdoors for mental health

A growing body of research shows that time spent outside is good for you and your family’s mental health and that spending time in nature is a great way to boost everyone’s mood. When you think about it, the human brain is designed for hunting, fishing, climbing trees and collecting food. Humans have, for most of our history, relied on nature and spent most of our time in nature. It’s only “natural” that we would feel at home outdoors! 

Many studies show that people report feelings of peace, contentment, and belonging when in nature. This might be because nature works to reduce the stress of cluttered and attention-demanding indoor environments. With less to focus and concentrate on, most people can relax their brain and truly destress, unlike when they find themselves in an attention-grabbing environment filled with television, phones, and other media. 

And let’s not forget spending time outdoors usually involves exercise, which increases blood flow and oxygen through the body and the brain, resulting in an improved mood and more energy. Exercise also increases “happy” hormones, like serotonin.  

So here are some ideas on how to get outside with your family! 

Grow or pick food: Plant a vegetable garden in your own space or at a shared community garden. And depending on the season, there are many places in and around Multnomah County where you can go and pick-your-own fruits and veggies to enjoy!

Bring nature indoors: Collect natural materials (something kids love to do!) and use them to decorate your space. Or find a place to put chairs where you can look out the window and see the sky and trees (great for rainy days!). You can also grow plants or flowers on your windowsill or even watch a video of nature with your family.

Do outdoor activities: It can be as easy as taking a walk together, maybe with the family dog, or watching the stars after sunset. Maybe eat outdoors (or as Fancy Nancy likes to say, alfresco!). You can also have family exercise outside, by jogging together through a local park, playing tennis at a nearby school or park tennis courts, or doing yoga outside. And if you have a 4th grader in your home, don't forget you can enjoy national parks, lands, and waters for free, for a full year!

Help the environment: Your family can take a monthly walk where you pick up litter or volunteer with groups who help with conservation or building animal habitats. 

Notice nature: Again, something kids are “naturals” at (pun intended). Find things you can touch, smell or hear. Maybe keep a family journal of your experiences. Maybe challenge your family to notice up to three things in nature every day! Or maybe try “Forest Bathing” with a local group

Connect with animals: Watch for wildlife when you are outside. Maybe hang a bird feeder, bat box or mason bee house where the family can watch. Backyard animals are everywhere! Visit a local farm or The Belmont Goats! (Librarian Jen volunteers with The Belmont Goats and they love visitors!) 

More ideas on why, how and where to get started:

Also check out our booklist below for titles about the joy of getting outside.

This article was written for our Family Newsletter, available in English and Spanish. Please sign up here and you can email us at learning@multcolib.org with any questions.

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