Outdoor Play for Mental Well-Being of Children

By Wasim Kakroo

YOU are not alone if you and your children feel frantic, isolated, anxious, or depressed post pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in March 2022 that the COVID-19 pandemic had caused a 25% spike in depression and anxiety worldwide and adults aren’t the only ones who are following this trend.

According to another survey done by a US based research team, mental health-related emergency department visits increased 24 percent for children aged 5 to 11 and 31 percent for those aged 12 to 17 from March to October 2020.

This, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is a mental health crisis for children.

While this may be a difficult fact to face as a parent, there are steps you can take to help your children cope with the effects of the last few years of turmoil.

Getting outside in nature is one option.

To some people, this may appear to be too simple to be true. Others, such as city dwellers, may find it difficult to obtain. Still, the data shows that getting your family outside can be really beneficial to their mental health.

Here are some facts about the mind-nature link, as well as some suggestions for getting outside no matter what your circumstances are.

The physical and mental health benefits of getting outside:

It’s no secret that the mind and body are inextricably linked. According to a research, spending time outside has a significant positive impact on physical well-being. This can help children and adults have better mental health outcomes.

Following are the benefits of taking your children out into the nature:

  1. Reduced cortisol:

The stress hormone cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands to deal with stress. It’s preferable for the body to create just enough — not too much — when it comes to mental wellbeing.

In one research done in 2019 that spanned for 8 weeks, participants of 36 city inhabitants spent time in any outside location that brought them closer to nature. Participants showed a significant decline in cortisol levels after doing so three times a week for 10 minutes or more, regardless of what activities they did outside.

Since stress in our daily lives can cause adrenal hyperstimulation and eventually tiredness, by spending some time in nature, parents and children can lower cortisol levels, reduce stress, and improve general health.

  1. Lowers blood pressure and heart rate

Blood pressure and heart rate aren’t merely indicators of how healthy your heart is. They’re also key indicators of the body’s stress levels.

Multiple studies from the year 2020 found that sitting or strolling outside dramatically decreased blood pressure and heart rate.

The sympathetic nervous system, often known as the body’s fight-flight-freeze response system, was shown to be less active when people went outside. While this nervous system response is essential in the short term, it can become stuck in overdrive, resulting in long-term tension and fatigue.

  1. Increased vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been related to an increased risk of mental illness.

These are some of them:

Anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues

Reduced immune responsiveness

Thus, spending time outside in the sun can help adults and children get more of this important nutrient, which can help with mental health.

  1. More restful sleep

If you or your child has trouble sleeping, you know how disturbing it can be for the rest of your family.

You might feel more anxious, depressed, irritated, or on edge if you’re having difficulties in sleeping. It also has an effect on your tolerance for distress and frustration. Sleep deprivation makes things feel more insurmountable.

There is, however, a solution to it. A few minutes in the backyard or at the park could help you get some relaxation and keep your emotional health in check.

According to a research conducted in 2021 across 14 nations on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children aged 3 to 5, children who spent time outside were more likely to have better sleep.

  1. Increased overall well-being

Being outside can be beneficial for children suffering from anxiety and depression due to trauma, particularly as a result of everything we’ve been through in the previous several years with the pandemic.

According to one study, spending time outdoors, in nature, boosts life expectancy, enhances wellbeing, reduces depression symptoms, and improves a child’s ability to function in school.

According to a 2016 study, the more time children spend in green spaces, the more likely they are to be emotionally well-adjusted.

According to a 2019 scientific review, spending time in nature improves a variety of aspects of mental well-being. These included the following:

Pleasant mood, the ability to experience positive emotions, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, positive social relationships, reduced mental suffering.

When children are more active and spend more time outside throughout the day, teachers report enhanced concentration, better capacity to focus and learn, increased productivity, better behaviour, and the forging of more positive interactions between adults and children, as well as among peer groups.

With less limits, children find something exciting and exhilarating about being outside.

This sensation of freedom in open space is difficult to match in terms of happiness and wellbeing.

  1. Improved cognition and creativity

Outdoor activity may also help your children’s brain development in surprising ways.

Greater daily exposure to woods and green space was linked to higher scores for cognitive development in teenagers in a study from 2021.

After spending time in nature, people of all ages may experience an increase in creativity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have one hour of unstructured outdoor play per day.

The following are some of the benefits of outdoor play, according to her:

better concentration

improved cognitive performance

enhanced inventiveness

improved motor abilities

  1. Improved relationships between parents and kids

It might be tough for parents to connect with their children in today’s fast-paced, tech-focused environment.

One way to develop more lasting relationships is to spend time outside.

Unplugging from devices to play in the backyard, going to the park, or going on a walk can minimise distractions faced while indoors, allowing parents to be emotionally present and create healthy, safe attachments with their children.

Children with a strong, stable attachment to their primary caregiver(s) feel more at ease exploring their environment and surroundings. Thus when things are tight at home, moving outside can help to clear the air.

What can you do as a family to spend more time outside?

Spending time with your family outside definitely sounds like a good idea. Of course, the difficulty is to actually make it happen. Outdoor preparations can be thwarted by busy schedules and divergent perspectives among family members.

Try these simple activities to develop the habit of spending more time in nature:

After dinner, go for a walk

Choose a simple hiking trail that is suitable for the entire family

Allow everyone to pick their favourite outdoor activity, then plan each one ahead of time

Make a weekly trip to the park with your family.

Play sports with the children.

Organize a picnic in your backyard or at a nearby park.

Buy outdoor sports gears as a gift for birthdays or holidays.

  • The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar) and works as a consultant clinical psychologist at Centre for Mental Health Services at Rambagh Srinagar. He can be reached at 8825067196.

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