Does Nature Relieve Your Stress?
More and more people are spending time outside, even if it’s just to go for a walk. The number of hiking clubs has multiplied, people are heading out on the weekends to look for wild mushrooms, and families are camping instead of staying in hotels. As used as we are to big cities and their conveniences, what makes us want to spend time in the great outdoors? Is it possible that nature helps relieve your stress?
Stress and its triggers
Stress is a normal, adaptive feeling that helps you respond to urgent or emergency situations. The intensity of life in the city, however, sometimes tricks the body into a stress response as if you were in constant danger. When your stress gets to that point, it becomes chronic.
There are plenty of internal and external sources of stress, such as:
- A biological tendency. Some people are more easily emotionally triggered than others, which is why certain situations could stress one person out and not the next.
- Difficult life conditions. Poverty, abuse, natural disasters, and chronic illness are some examples of stressful life situations that cause chronic stress.
- Diet. Although you may find this hard to believe, eating an unhealthy diet is also related to stress. Eating too much caffeine and processed fats can be a stress trigger.
- Environment. If you live in a very noisy and busy place or you don’t have a lot of free time, it’s very difficult for you to relax. That, as you can imagine, can lead to chronic stress.
For the purposes of talking about stress and nature, we’re going to hone in on the environmental factors that contribute to chronic stress and anxiety. If you’re interested in learning more about how these conditions could affect you, keep reading!
How nature helps relieve your stress
Humans’ relationship with nature is highly complex. There are thousands of interconnected factors and it’s often difficult to identify where the spiral begins. Does it start in us or is it something that affects us from the outside?
On the other hand, modern life has evolved so much in the last couple of centuries that things are complicated for human biology and the natural world. Factors such as the work environment, pollution, and our fast-paced lives inhibit the body’s natural rhythms. That’s where nature comes in. The natural world has a counterpoint for every “unnatural” element of contemporary urban life. Let’s take a look.
Listening to silence
Ambient noise in cities is constant. Your neighbor who plays music all day, the incessant traffic, construction, cars honking, etc. Short of a power outage, the city doesn’t sleep. Interestingly, if you live in the city, you’re so used to this kind of soundscape that you feel surprised when there’s peace and quiet.
Alvarsson and his research team compared the performance of two groups on a task after exposing them to a stressful stimulant. One group listened to a recording of ambient noise in the city, while the other group listened to nature sounds. The group that listened to the city recording did significantly worse, which led researchers to the conclusion that nature sounds help reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. That’s the one that’s activated when the brain detects danger.
You need solitude to relieve your stress
Human beings are social. We need a certain amount of human company for our mental and emotional well-being. That being said, we’ve evolved to live in small groups, which makes cities rather stressful. In fact, some research suggests that there’s a relationship between fertility and overpopulation.
When you’re in a natural environment, the simple fact that there’s no one else around fosters a sense of intimacy and introspection. Those kinds of feelings are difficult to have when you’re constantly interacting with other people.
Air pollution in cities can also play a role in stress and anxiety disorders. We already mentioned noise pollution, but light pollution is also an issue. The fact that cities are very rarely dark can actually change the circadian rhythms in your body that are normally dictated by sunlight.
Take a nature pill
The good news, according to a study conducted by Mary Carol R. Hunter, is that being in nature for twenty minutes a day is enough to reduce cortisol levels in the blood. That’s true even if the natural environment is within a city (i.e. a city park). This “treatment” should be done without screens, aerobic exercise, or even a book. Research suggests that you’ll get the full benefits if you just walk around or sit in nature.
These new discoveries bring together scientific progress and our biological roots. Every day we’re finding new ways to protect our health and the natural world, all without giving up the comforts of modern life. So what are you waiting for? Get outside and let nature relieve your stress!
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
Alvarsson, J.J.; Wiens, S.; Nilsson, M.E. Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2010, 7, 1036-1046.
Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise. (2010, 1 marzo). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872309/