Skip to main contentSkip to footer

Affected by anxiety and stress? You could have nature deficit disorder

Why spending time outside in nature is key to easing anxiety and boosting happiness

nature deficit disorder© Photo: iStock
Melanie Macleod
Wellness Editor
Updated: March 20, 2023
Share this:

If you often find yourself feeling twitchy and irritable, with the attention span a goldfish would pity, you could be suffering from nature deficit disorder.

Nature deficit disorder sets in when we’re deprived of time outdoors. With it comes a host of unwelcome mental and physical illnesses, including stress, anxiety and forgetfulness, says natural wellbeing coach and forest bathing guide Jen Grange

The good news is, you can cure nature deficit disorder in as little as 20 minutes per day, simply by going outside and letting yourself be nurtured by nature. "As soon as I go outside, even for 10 minutes, everything falls away and I am refreshed and restored," Jen says. 

jen grange

Jen says nature refreshes and restores her

The great outdoors works wonders to lift our spirits, soothe our worries and make the world seem that little bit brighter, with studies showing that time in nature directly impacts how positive we feel.

It’s something Stephanie Taylor, 33, found when she challenged herself to swim outdoors every day for a full year, drawn into the icy waters by the promise of lessened anxiety. 

cold water swimming cornwall

Stephanie Taylor swam outside every day for a whole year

"I noticed the positive effects of nature immediately," she told us. "For me, getting in the sea is a reset, it brings me back to baseline. It feels like a superpower like I can do anything. It reminds me that I can do hard things, if I can get in the sea in the middle of winter, I can do loads of the things that I’m scared of doing, or have always been nervous of."

READ: Cold water therapy: What are the physical and mental health benefits?

"The long-term benefits of outdoor swimming every day have been huge," Stephanie says. "It has given me so much more confidence and trust in what my body and my brain can do, which has dramatically decreased my overall anxiety levels. I started going to the gym a couple of months in, something I would never have dreamed of doing before, which in turn has made me fitter, happier and more confident."

coastal swimming

Outdoor swimming has made Stephanie fitter and more confident

How does nature make us happier?

It's mostly down to the happy hormones nature helps us produce - and the negative ones it reduces.

Time spent in nature sparks a series of happy reactions inside us, reducing our cortisol (stress) levels, increasing our levels of serotonin (the happiness hormone), and it can even cause us to produce the love hormone oxytocin (great if you're feeling lonely). 

"Nature is always my go-to place in times of stress," Jen shares. "I feel a sense of spaciousness and know that I’m not alone. Nature is where I go to have some 'me time'. It never fails to calm me down and I always come back from a walk in the woods feeling happy and restored and much more able to cope."

woman walking trees© Photo: iStock

Nature creates a sense of space

If walking in nature really isn’t your thing, simply being outdoors, such as dining al fresco, can help you soak up the benefits, Jen says. Seeing something breathtaking, such as a beautiful sunset, causes our body to release dopamine, our reward hormone, which gives us a lovely feeling of pleasure – no hiking gear required.

READ: Do you need an awe break? The happiness-boosting activity we can all try

"Living near green or blue space, such as fields or the sea, has a positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing too and gives us longer life expectancy," Jen explains, and that's not all: "When we are near the sea or when there is a lot of moisture in the air, we are exposed to negative oxygen ions in the atmosphere, which can reduce depression, give us more energy and help us to sleep better."

If you struggle with confidence and self-acceptance, nature is here to help you too, according to Jen. "Increasing our nature connectedness increases our eudaimonic wellbeing, which includes self-acceptance, meaning and purpose in life, and personal growth, helping us feel positive, and that life is worthwhile."

READ: The TikTok trend that's genuinely vital to your wellbeing

Lastly, contact with bacteria in soil creates a reaction in the body, which causes the release of serotonin - hence why gardeners are often so cheery! 

WATCH: How HELLO! readers and writers get happy

Ease stress with nature 

Society puts a lot of pressure on us to be the best at all times, excelling in our careers, acing parenting, supporting our partners, exercising and maintaining friendships and Jen points out that nature can relieve us of these expectations.

"Nature shows us that we can’t always shine bright and that it's ok to have some downtime to rest and recharge," says Jen. "Look at how the leaves on the trees grow in the spring and summer, but then fall away so the tree can rest in the winter months.

READ: Soothed by the sea: how living by the ocean eased my anxiety and isolation

"Working with the seasons and cycles of nature will help you feel happier, connected, aligned and in tune with the world around you, you’ll sleep better and appreciate more," she adds. 

"In the summer I might stay up late and enjoy the evening sunshine and vibrancy of the season, whereas in the winter I allow myself much more rest and time out to recharge myself for the upcoming spring."

How long does it take for nature to make us happier?

Nature-phobes will be pleased to know nature doesn't take long to work its wonders. Research from the University of Exeter shows that two hours a week in nature is the minimum needed in nature to improve our psychological wellbeing.

If that sounds too long, don’t fret. "It doesn’t have to be in one big chunk it can be 20 minutes each day and it doesn’t matter where you are – in the woods, by the sea or in your local park," Jen reassures. 

"Personally, I instantly notice the benefits of going outside in nature, immediately feeling calmer and more able to cope with the strains of life. The more time I spend outside in nature the happier I am."

Easy ways to embrace nature every day

1. Bring nature to you 

This is the tip to follow if going outside isn’t appealing. "Have nature all around you every day," says Jen. "Add pot plants to your desk, pictures of nature on the wall or even a bird feeder to your window. Try it, it makes a huge difference."

2. Stroll, don’t scroll

"When you need a break, rather than scrolling through social media, go outside," suggests Jen. "Even if you live in an urban area, you’ll be able to find some nature to connect with, or simply look up at the sky."

Microdosing nature is an easy way to soothe stress throughout the day, without having to get your outdoor gear on.

3. Get to know a tree

We see trees every day, but it’s rare we take a life lesson from one – unless it’s Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas.

"Trees are wonderful organisms and we can learn so much from them - strength, stability, grounded-ness, flexibility, resilience and caring for others are all characteristics we can appreciate and adopt ourselves," says Jen.

WATCH: How 'tree-hugging' can help wellbeing

View post on Instagram

"When we befriend a tree and grow a bond with it, loneliness and anxiety can decrease as  we know there is a living organism nearby who will always accept us and never judge us."

4. Acknowledge the weather

An ideal one if you live in an inner city area. "Next time it rains, instead of rushing indoors, see how it feels to hold your palms out and feel the raindrops fall on your hands and on your head. Delight in the sensation knowing that it is so good for you," says Jen.

Subscribe to Hello Happiness, for your ultimate guide on how to be happier.

Sign up to HELLO Daily! for the best royal, celebrity and lifestyle coverage

By entering your details, you are agreeing to HELLO! Magazine User Data Protection Policy. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more information, please click here.

More Health & Fitness

See more