Stress from your workday or personal life is commonplace these days, but there is a simple step you can take to “lower stress by biologically significant amounts.”
It may surprise you, but it is as easy as spending a short period of time in “nature” each day — whether that is a forest or beach, or even an urban park or rooftop garden.
“We are hurting ourselves by not prioritizing our deep human connection to the natural world, writes Florence Williams in a Time magazine article. “We’ve lost sight of how natural spaces — even citified versions of them — can help us feel psychologically restored. Nor are we aware that studies also show they make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other.”
According to a new study by MaryCarol R. Hunter of the University of Michigan, simply going outside to spend some time in a place that feels like nature for 20- to 30-minutes — and not using your phone — reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
“Over the eight-week study, participants had the cortisol in their saliva measured before and after the nature experience four separate times,” according to the article in Fast Company. “What the researchers gathered from all that data was that time in nature definitively reduces stress. The dip may start immediately, but only at 20 minutes does the data show the cortisol drop to be significant. The drop continues, topping out around 30 minutes, but cortisol levels will continue declining for as long as an hour.”
Hunter added that spending more than 30 minutes would be increasingly beneficial up to the first hour.
And the American Heart Association concurs, “Spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing… your brain benefits from a journey back to nature. The constant stimulation [of an urban environment] puts stress on brains that evolved in more tranquil environments. Nature presents scenes that gently capture your attention instead of suddenly snatching it, calming your nerves instead of frazzling them.”
Hunter said her small study of 36 urban dwellers did not require a minimum area of green space, it simply had to qualify as nature in the eye of the beholder.
Nothing more than spending time in your version of nature is necessary to reduce stress — in fact, the study noted above recommends against exercising during this time — but should you feel so inclined, taking a walk in natural surroundings is recommended.
For additional recommendations on nature activities to reduce stress, see “10 Ways to Relax in Nature and Stress Less.”