The Nature Cure for Stress Relief
Some days, it seems as if nothing is going right. A lot of little things may add up or one major thing bothering you, like paying bills, an argument with your significant other, or worries about a health issue. But whatever the cause may be, it is essential to recognize when you’re getting frazzled and do something to ease your stress. And achieving that relief might even be easier than you realize. According to new research, the nature cure may be just what you need. All it may take is a little time spent in nature.
Research on the Nature Cure to Soothe Stress
The study, which was conducted at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, found that spending 20 minutes or more in nature is linked to a significant drop in stress hormone levels. (1) These results are based on an investigation that included 36 men and women with a mean age of almost 46, all of whom were residing in urban areas.
Over the course of eight weeks, the subjects were given the mandate to visit an outdoor setting where they would feel as if they were encountering nature. They chose the locations themselves and decided when they wanted to go within the guidelines that it be three times a week for a minimum of 10 minutes per visit throughout the duration of the study. The volunteers were discouraged from engaging in certain activities that could affect their stress levels while out in their nature spot, including exercising, having conversations with others, reading, and, need I say it, using their cell phones.
At four random times, the researchers collected samples of the participants’ saliva both before and after one of the nature sessions. The levels of cortisol—the fight-or-flight stress hormone released by the adrenal glands—were measured and were found to be an average of 21.3 percent lower per hour after interacting with nature.
Just a Small Dose of the Nature Cure is All You Need
Interestingly, a length of 20 to 30 minutes spent outdoors appears to be the ideal duration to achieve the benefits of reduced cortisol levels. Longer periods of time in nature remained beneficial to the subjects, but the dip in cortisol was lower.
The investigators also checked levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme in the saliva known to be a reliable biomarker of stress levels. They discovered that those who chose to simply sit in their nature spot or did a combination of sitting and strolling had a 28 percent per hour reduction in alpha-amylase.
This study is obviously limited by the very small size of its population sample, which makes it difficult to say whether the results could be replicated in a larger, more diverse group. Yet despite that, its findings seem to be very much in line with those of other similar research. For example, a 2010 study at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom showed that just five minutes of exercise in a natural setting improves mental health.
It would certainly do us no harm to start communing with nature a little more. We should “stop and smell the roses” for a reason. It is healthy for us to spend a little time outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air, admiring the beauty of the vast natural world that surrounds us.
People who live in more urban environments might reap greater benefits since this is not a typical setting, so it would be good for you to find a nearby park or garden that could be your go-to place for your nature cure. Suburbanites and country dwellers might not need to make as much effort but should still reserve some time throughout the week to take a stroll around the neighborhood or at least sit on the porch or in the backyard, just taking in nature’s bounty without a cell phone in your hand.
Photos of Nature Also Beneficial
If you have trouble getting to a nature spot regularly, a mural of a nature scene or images of flowers as your screensaver might be the next best thing to an in-person nature cure. No joke. A 2008 study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found that looking at pictures of nature offers cognitive benefits similar to that of walking in nature. (2)