‘Nature Therapy’ Shown to Ease College Stress
An interdisciplinary team of researchers has quantified that as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help college students feel happier and lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress. Investigators explain that the current study is part of a larger examination of “nature therapy” to aid psychological health.
Students commonly experience stress because of increased responsibilities, insufficient time management strategies, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and not taking enough breaks for self-care.
The college experience can provide great memories but may often include stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Researchers sought to develop an easily-achievable “nature” dosage that providers could suggest to students to prevent or avoid these common mental health challenges.
“It doesn’t take much time for the positive benefits to kick in — we’re talking 10 minutes outside in a space with nature,” said lead author Gen Meredith, O.T.R., M.P.H. Meredith is the associate director of the Cornell Master of Public Health Program and a lecturer at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“We firmly believe that every student, no matter what subject or how high their workload, has that much discretionary time each day, or at least a few times per week.”
The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Meredith and her co-authors reviewed studies that examined the effects of nature on people of college age (no younger than 15, no older than 30) to discover how much time students should be spending outside and what they should be doing while they’re there.
They found that 10-50 minutes in natural spaces was the most effective to improve mood, focus and physiological markers like blood pressure and heart rate.
“It’s not that there’s a decline after 50 minutes, but rather that the physiological and self-reported psychological benefits tend to plateau after that,” said co-author Dr. Donald Rakow, an associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science.
To enjoy the positive effects of being outside, students need only to be sitting or walking, the two primary activities the researchers examined in an effort to provide accessible recommendations.
“We wanted to keep this access to nature as simple and achievable as possible,” said Rakow. “While there is a lot of literature on longer outdoor programs, we wanted to quantify doses in minutes, not days.”
Although the university setting can lend itself to nature getaways, research suggests that adding green elements to urban built spaces can produce the same results. It is the time spent in nature, not necessarily nature itself, that’s beneficial.
“This is an opportunity to challenge our thinking around what nature can be,” Meredith said. “It is really all around us: trees, a planter with flowers, a grassy quad or a wooded area.”
The impetus for this work is a movement toward prescribing time in nature as a way to prevent or improve stress and anxiety, while also supporting physical and mental health outcomes. The researchers wanted to consider what “dose” would need to be prescribed to college-age students to show an effect.
They are hoping that when it’s applied at universities, it becomes part of a student’s routine and is consumed in regular doses, like a pill.
“Prescribing a dose can legitimize the physician’s recommendation and give a tangible goal,” said Meredith. “It’s different than just saying: ‘Go outside.’ There is something specific that a student can aim for.”
Source: Cornell University/EurekAlert
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). ‘Nature Therapy’ Shown to Ease College Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/02/29/nature-therapy-shown-to-ease-college-stress/154525.html