The Healing Powers of Nature: A Scientific Look at Nature and Stress Reduction

When was the last time that you spent time sitting quietly beside a pristine lake, hiking through a trail surrounded by trees, or simply taking a few minutes out of your day to spend time in nature?  Nature is all around us, but in urban societies, spending time in nature may not happen as often as we’d like, as it may seem that quiet lakes, parks, forests and valleys are just a bit out of reach.  The hustle and bustle of the urban life may also make it difficult to find time to slow down and seek out these areas that may exist in a nearby location.  Or, you may even forget that there are local areas that offer the peace and quiet of natural environments.  But, what effect does nature really have on us, and how can it be used to decrease stress? 

Humans have occupied natural environments for thousands of years, and spent majority of the time learning to adapt to these environments.  Within the past few generations, humans have spent more time modernizing habitats, and becoming more urbanized (Maller et al, 2006).  While this modernization has lead to many advancements, it’s also created a disconnect between humans and nature (Maller et al, 2006).  In fact, 30 years ago, researchers noted that humans had never spent such little time connecting with plants, and animals in nature (Katcher and Beck, 1987).  Connecting with natural environments is very important to the mental and physical health of human beings (Maller et al, 2006).  Let’s take a look at how spending time in nature can be beneficial.


The Science of Nature and Stress Reduction 

Research has indicated many positive health and mental health benefits by being exposed to natural environments.  If you’ll recall our article on The Science of Stress Reduction: Facing ‘Bears’ in the Woods, you’ll remember that stress affects our nervous system, by increasing activity.  Early research in nature has shown that being exposed to natural environments, slows down the nervous system, strengthens brain activity, and can decrease mental fatigue (Maller et al, 2006).  In addition to this, research has shown that access to natural environments in the workplace has lead to lower stress levels in employees, and higher levels of job satisfaction (Maller et al, 2006).  When looking at physical health, researchers have looked at the impact of having a gardened area in settings such as hospital settings, and have found that patients exposed to a garden within the hospital have lowered stress levels, more positive moods, and improved clinical outcomes (Ulrich, 2002).  This research indicates that time spent outdoors in nature, or time spent accessing portions of nature in indoor settings can have a strong positive impact on our mental and physical health.   

If you’re like us, and you live in the city, it may feel hard to find natural environments without travelling too far from your home.  But amazingly, nature is really just a few steps away!  We’ve put together some tips for you if you’d like to spend more time enjoying nature.


Tips for Incorporating More Time in Nature

Do some research about your local surroundings – as mentioned above, if you live in a city or other urban area, it may feel like nature is simply too far away to access. But this isn’t necessarily the case!  Many cities have quiet parks, forested area, creeks and rivers that aren’t too far out of reach.  Take a look into your closest surroundings and see what you can find.

Spending time in nature doesn’t have to be difficult – It may also seem like you have to drive hours to find the serenity of nature, to truly experience the effects of the outdoors and nature.  But thankfully, this isn’t the case either!  Simply getting outside for a short period of time can enhance your mood and decrease your stress levels.  If it’s hard for you to find time to spend in nature, try starting by going outside for 10 minutes on your lunch break, and noticing the nature that is all around you.

Bring Nature to Your Environment – If it’s hard for you to find time to spend outdoors, why not bring nature to you?  Try creating a natural environment in places like your workspace by bringing in plants, and pictures that can simulate nature while your indoors!

Try a Getaway – If you’ve tried all of the above strategies, and you’re interested in more – why not plan a getaway where you can really experience nature in it’s element?  There are many beautiful locations, especially in Ontario that are just a drive away!  These trips can allow you the time to really connect with nature, and practice mindfulness along the way (see our Mindfulness article).

 

We hope you’ve learned a few helpful things about nature, and ways that it can ease your stress, enhance your mood, and improve your overall health.  Remember “look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” – Albert Einstein.

 

Live life lighter,

Carolyn and Steph


References 

Katcher, A. H., Beck, A. M. (1987). Health and caring for living things.  Anthrozoos. 1, 175-183.

Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P., St Leger, L. (2006). Healthy nature health people: ‘contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations.  Health Promotion International. 21 (1), 45-54.

Ulrich, R. S. (2002). Health benefits of gardens in hospitals. International Exhibition Floriade. 1-10.

Sam Cooper