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Stressed? Try A Nature Pill

Spring is here–and if you need another reason to get out of doors, how about improving your mental health? Study after study backs the stress-relieving power of nature. Cortisol levels drop and life starts looking good again.

In a new study*, Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers the relationship between duration of a nature experience (NE), (spending time in an outdoor place that brings a sense of contact with nature) and changes in two physiological biomarkers of stress – salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase, are described.

Thirty-six individuals who lived in cities were asked to have a ten-minute or more nature experience at least three times a week for a period of eight weeks. (They had to do this during the day, couldn’t include aerobic exercise as part of the NE, had to avoid their phones while they were experiencing their NE, and had to avoid any mood-altering drugs.)

Because doctors today are beginning to write prescriptions for spending time in nature, the study sought to quantify what kinds of NE’s really were effective so that a reliable “prescription” could be written. “The efficiency of a ‘nature pill’ per time expended was greatest between 20 and 30 min, after which benefits continued to accrue, but at a reduced rate,” the results showed.

Though other studies** suggested higher rates of cortisol drops when going to a forest, these researchers created a practical study in which city dwellers could go to their local park or their own backyard. While being immersed in a totally natural environment like a forest or the mountains without the noise and other distractions of the city might hold appeal and even be more effective, most people can’t do that on a regular basis. This study showed that the stress reduction of cortisol was at 21.3% per hour and researchers predicted a 10.6% cortisol drop after a 30 min NE.

Make It  A Habit

Even if you have to travel a bit to get to a natural setting, the effect on your mood may be well worth it. All beginnings are hard, but if you make the commitment to this healthy habit, you’ll find after time it comes easier.

To make it a habit:

  1. Notice the pattern of your days and weeks. Is there any downtime when you could be engaged with nature? Sometimes minutes cruising the internet can turn into hours, and that time could be better spent in nature.
  2. Start slow with an easy plan. Research where you’ll go and make sure it’s a relatively convenient location. If your goal is to get out in nature five times a week and you never do this now, you might crash and burn. Instead, choose one time a week and commit to it, no matter what. Don’t let anything interfere with your time spent outdoors, unless it is urgent. Don’t do two hours at once unless you truly can commit, even fifteen minutes can have an effect.
  3. Keep a record of your nature experiences. Use the calendar on your phone or an old fashioned wall calendar, and check off your NEs when you’re done.
  4. Build on success. Don’t stop at once a week. Don’t stop at 15 minutes. Every month or so, reassess the success of your commitment and add a few more minutes and a few more NEs per month.

*Researchers and consultants were from School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, consultant from the Statistics, Computing, and Analytics Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, and the Department of Biostatistics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI,

**Stressed? Try the Japanese Forest Walk

**9 Ways to Beat the Fall Blues

 

Stressed? Try A Nature Pill


Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.


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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2019). Stressed? Try A Nature Pill. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapy-soup/2019/04/stressed-try-a-nature-pill/

 

Last updated: 7 Apr 2019
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