Many of us working in the concrete jungles that are our cities feel the stress emanating from these environments, not only from the bustling streets but also the steely lifeless buildings. There’s a hypothesis that being in touch with nature improves our mental well-being. With the 2019 Earth Day this Monday April 22, it is a perfect time to consider what you can do for nature and what nature can do for you!

Earth Day 2019

Earth Day is a global event, started in 1970 to promote public participation and political action towards environmental protection. One billion people from around 192 countries participate in activities that include marches, signing of petitions, planting trees, cleaning up the environment and meeting government officials. Anyone can participate in Earth Day events. See these Earth Day tips.

Public acceptance of human-induced global warning peaked at 73% of Americans in 2018. So why are initiatives like Earth Day still so important?

7 in 10 American think global warming is happening. Credit: Leiserowitz et al., 2018.
7 in 10 American think global warming is happening. Credit: Leiserowitz et al., 2018.

The answer comes from the worrying trends that are going in the opposite direction to the above graph; global land and ocean temperatures are rising, glacial landmass is shrinking, the number of endangered species are increasing and plant and animal biodiversity are decreasing. The current pace of global average temperature rise puts approximately half of all plants and animals at risk of extinction – how soon depends on our actions (Price et al.). When the consequences are this dire, increasing public engagement and political awareness is essential.

Nature’s Benefit on Your Health

If these reasons to protect the environment aren’t enough, consider the personal positives that nature can have on your health. It is intuitive that being outside benefits you – most of your outside time probably involves exercise or social activities, both of which have well-established positive impacts. (Not to mention that nature produces the plant-based foods that are key to longevity and healthy life.) But what does the science say about the mental health benefits of nature itself?

As the number of people living in urban areas has increased over the past few decades (the number of Australians living in high-rise apartments doubled between 1991 and 2011), it’s becoming even more imperative to experience nature. In a biological sense, the less exposure we have to nature as we grow up, the lower our chance of encountering pathogens and forming a healthy immune system in response. This is known as the hygiene hypothesis.

Nature and Mental Health

Besides the immune system’s role in nature-based well-being, the simple experience of being absorbed in an aesthetically pleasing natural environment has a stress relieving effect (Corazon et al., 2012). Shinrin-Yoku, also known as Forest Bathing, is an ancient Japanese practice aimed at accessing these restorative effects of nature. Shinrin-Yoku involves mindfully immersing oneself in nature with all five of your senses (Hansen et al., 2017)

The diverse sensory stimulation of nature – breathing in the crisp, fresh air, listening to melodic bird songs and feeling the cool, soft grass under your feet – is enough to anchor you in the present moment. This hallmark of mindfulness has been shown to improve (Hansen et al., 2017):

  1. The immune system – nature meditation can increase natural killer cell activity, which helps with cancer prevention.
  2. The cardiovascular system – nature meditation can help lower blood pressure or hypertension associated with coronary artery disease.
  3. The respiratory system – nature meditation can result in a decrease in allergies and respiratory disease.
  4. Psychological health – meditation can reduce depression and anxiety.
  5. Mental relaxation – meditation can improve Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms.

Mindfulness and connectedness to nature have a reciprocal relationship – cultivating mindful awareness may enhance feelings of connectedness to nature, while immersing yourself in nature helps to foster mindfulness itself (Schutte and Malou, 2018).

What Can Nature Do For You?  

This Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to turn a new leaf with nature-based psychotherapy. Head outside and pair you plans with exercise – go for a hike, run or swim – or simply pack a picnic in the park and soak in your surroundings. Even better, enhance your experience with mindfulness. Take a few deep breaths and immerse yourself in what nature is providing your senses.

Even indoors, decorating your house with plants can improve air quality by removing trace toxic components like ozone, benzene, ammonia, formaldehyde and acetone. In fact, researchers have engineered a genetically modified (GM) pothos houseplant with enhanced removal of volatile carcinogens from the air (Zhang et al., 2018).

House plants can improve air quality and reduce stress. Photo by Kara Eads on Unsplash.
House plants can improve air quality and reduce stress. Photo by Kara Eads on Unsplash.

What Can You Do For Nature? 

The Earth Day website has an extensive list of things you can do to participate in this event. Some of the most important, interesting or unexpected inclusions on this list include:

1. Join Earth Day Network’s campaign to Protect Our Species.

2. Plant a tree or donate a tree through our Canopy Project. As a fun aside – What kind of tree are you, based on your fruit and vegetable intake?!

3. Recycle paper, plastic and glass. Reduce your garbage by 10% and your carbon footprint by 1,200 pounds a year.

4. Stop using disposable plastics, especially single-use plastics like bottles, bags and straws.

5. Reduce your meat consumption to curb carbon emissions from the livestock industry.

6. Keep your tires properly inflated and get better gas mileage. Reduce your carbon footprint 20 pounds for each gallon of gas saved.

7. Set your office printer to print two-sided.

8. Turn off and unplug electronics you’re not using. This includes turning off your computer at night.

9. Take the stairs instead of the elevator to save energy (and get exercise!).

10. Lower the temperature on your water heater.

So this Earth Day, consider what you can do to protect that planet, and as a bonus you can enjoy what nature can offer your mental health!



  1. Corazon, S.S., Stigsdotter, U.K., Moeller, M.S., Moeller, S., 2012. Nature as therapist : Integrating permaculture with mindfulness- and acceptance-based therapy in the Danish Healing Forest Garden Nacadia 2537.
  2. Hansen, M.M., Jones, R., Tocchini, K., 2017. Shinrin-Yoku ( Forest Bathing ) and Nature Therapy : A State-of-the-Art Review.
  3. [WWW Document], n.d.
  4. Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Rosenthal, S., Kotcher, J., Ballew, M., Goldberg, M., Gustafson, A., 2018. Climate Change in the American Mind. New Haven, CT.
  5. Price, J., Warren, R., Mcdougall, A., Cornelius, S., Sohl, H., Wwf-uk, N.R., Jeffries, B., Jeffries, E., Wwf-uk, K.E., n.d. Wildlife In A Warming World.
  6. Schutte, N.S., Malou, J.M., 2018. Mindfulness and connectedness to nature : A meta-analytic investigation. Pers. Individ. Dif. 127, 10–14.
  7. Zhang, L., Routsong, R., Strand, S.E., 2018. Greatly Enhanced Removal of Volatile Organic Carcinogens by a Genetically Modified Houseplant, Pothos Ivy (Epipremnum aureum) Expressing the Mammalian Cytochrome P450 2e1 Gene. Environ. Sci. Technol. 53, 325–331.