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Stress

Stressed Out? Take a Natural Chill Pill!

A small study shows how long it takes for a natural setting to provide relief.

Klimkin/Pixabay, used with permission
Source: Klimkin/Pixabay, used with permission

When you go on vacation, whether it’s a hike up a mountain or a hiatus on the beach, your likely goal is to escape the everyday pressures of your life. If you’re routinely caught up in an urban rat race, you probably need that drastic change of scenery in order to get your mind (and body) away from everything that normally consumes you. The benefits of being out in nature are well documented but even if they weren’t, the good feels are so obvious that when vacation is over, most of us are reluctant to return to the everyday grind.

What if you didn’t have to wait for a vacation to reap the stress-reducing benefits of nature? Would you make some extra room in your schedule to spend a short time, a few days a week, outdoors? Researchers at the University of Michigan set out to discover just how long it actually takes to de-stress in a natural setting.

In this small, initial study, a group of 36 city-dwelling adults, mostly females ranging in age from 22 to 68, participated in at least three nature experiences throughout each week for eight weeks. Throughout the study period, the participants were asked to take a “nature pill,” by spending time in any outdoor locations they felt provided enough elements to allow a true interaction with nature. Wherever they chose to be, they could sit down, take a walk or do both, at a time during the day that worked best for them, for however long they felt it took to provide some amount of stress relief. Due to the essential requirements of the study and testing involved, the participants could not perform aerobic exercise during their nature experience and were to avoid phone calls, social media, the internet, and conversations or reading of any kind.

Using professional sampling kits and following directions provided by the researchers, the participants provided saliva samples just before and just after each nature experience. From the samples, the researchers were able to measure and compare individual levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase, two biological markers (indicators) of stress. They found that both biomarkers dropped significantly in response to a nature experience. They also found that while the stress-reducing benefits of a nature experience accrue for whatever length of time is spent outdoors, a 20- to 30-minute period provides the most efficient gain.

Got 20 minutes and a nearby park to confirm the results for yourself?

References

Hunter MCR, Gillespie BW, Chen SY-P. Urban nature experiences reduce stress in the context of daily life based on salivary biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology. April 4, 2019. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722/full

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