Impact of Nature on Mental Health

Written By: Emily Peterson, MS, LPC-IT

Hello Summer!  Summertime is often the time of the year where many of us try to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather (I know I do!).  It is no surprise that spending time in nature can have positive effects on mental health.  Being in nature may improve emotion regulation, reduce ruminative thinking, reset sleep patterns, and have positive effects on mood and working memory.  Some researchers have found that spending just 20 minutes in nature can reduce cortisol, a stress hormone, in the body.


A study by Stanford University shows that walking in nature could lead to lower risk of depression.  This study specifically looked at how walking in nature versus walking in a city/urban setting effects our mental well-being.  Researchers found that participants walking in a natural setting for 90 minutes showed a significant decrease in activity in the part of their brain that controls repetitive thought focused on negative emotions.  What does this mean?  It means that when we walk in natural environments, our brains may focus less on the “negatives” in our lives.  Pair this with the endorphins that our brains make when we exercise, and we have a recipe for improving our moods!


Not only can spending time in nature have a positive impact on our mental health, but it can also be a family-friendly or social activity.  Our society has become very technology-focused.  This can impact how we relate to one another, and may make us feel alone or isolated at times.  When we are in nature, we can unplug from technology and appreciate the world around us.  Bring a friend with you or spend some time with your family in nature.  This can help us feel more included in our community and can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.


In the Wausau area, we are fortunate to have many natural areas to explore, even within city limits!  To spark some inspiration, I thought I would share a summer bucket list of ideas to help you get outdoors this summer.

  1. Go for a hike on Rib Mountain trails
  2. Go for a walk on the Mountain-Bay State Trail
  3. Kayaking on Lake Wausau
  4. Play sand volleyball at the beach
  5. Wander through the Monk Botanical Gardens
  6. Rollerblading on the Cedar Creek Trail
  7. Hike the Ice Age Trail
  8. Bike at Nine Mile County Forest
  9. Go fishing at Blue Gill Bay Park
  10. Stargazing outside of town and away from city lights!


*When spending time outdoors: Remember to wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, and make sure you have the proper gear for your adventures (i.e. life vests, helmets, etc.).

I encourage you to make your own list and get out in nature as much as you can!  Have a safe and enjoyable summer!


Bratman, G. N., Daily, G. C., Levy, B. J., & Gross, J. J. (2014). The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition.           Landscape and Urban Planning (138), 41-50.

The Economic Times.  (2019).  Retrieved from         spending-just-20-mins-outside-can-lower-your-stress/articleshow/68721064.cms

Jordan, R. (2015). Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. Retrieved from           

Resources to Recover. (2018). Retrieved from: