Reduce stress in nature

Did you know that what you look at has an effect on how you cope with stress? Looking at walls or being inside buildings has been evidenced to have a negative effect on stress compared to looking at nature scenes, views and being in nature. Studies over the world have found that people who view or actively engage in being in nature have lower levels of stress, anxiety, mental fatigue and improved mood, sleep and energy.

Roger Ulrich (1981) theory of stress reduction highlights that built up areas, buildings with artificial lights, high levels of noise and busy environments all contribute to both physical and mental stress and fatigue. These environments also hinder our ability to restore and replenish our reserves to be able to cope with everyday stress.

Being in nature has been evidenced to lower stress responses and help restore both mental and physical energy important to feel resilient in coping with all the demands our lives are under. There are so many things we cannot control, but what we can control is looking at our being in nature. That could be taking a short micro-break at work to look out of the window and notice the sky, clouds and birds. Taking a lunch break to go outside feel the fresh air, focus on noticing plants, flowers, trees. When you have the time in the evening or at weekends taking the opportunity to take time actively in nature by the sea, forest, garden or park, putting away your phone and engaging with nature in that moment. The more times you consciously make a decision to view nature and be in it you may find over time the less stressed and more resilient you become.

Personally, I find being a green space restores my energy and I feel well outside. Inside I struggle with bright lights, patterns and noise that affect my health. It has taken a big shift in my physical health to find that I feel most well when I’m outside in a green space such as an allotment. I have always used the outdoors to support me when feeling stressed, previously with being by the sea my comfort blanket and tonic to cope with all the challenges life brings. I feel at ease when I’m outside especially when I see trees and blossom, when I see plants growing, hear the birds sing and feel the breeze on my face.

The science bit ( and physiologist in me !) also acknowledges that our stress response is lowered internally as we feel less threatened in natural environments. Our heart rate, blood pressure lower, our stress hormones start to lower all important for physical health. This is important to help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes. Being under stress affects our immune system. As our minds feel less threat our anxiety and stress levels lower, our concentration and focus is clearer as our brains are less flooded with the stress hormone Cortisol. We may also start to notice beautiful things in nature and when we connect with them, noticing the ‘WOW’ moments helps lift our mood by acknowledging positive experiences and thoughts. We may feel more resilient, have a stronger immune system and may even view what we find stressful in a different way!

Looking out the window, being in an outide space you feel safe are all free (depending where you choose to go!). They don’t have side effects, can be used in conjuction with other ways to manage stress and have additional benefits for mental and physical health longterm.

Ulrich, R. S. (1981). Natural versus urban scenes: Some psychophysiological effects. Environment and Behavior, 13, 523–556.

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