Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Art of Stress Relief

Seeking stress-relieving benefits from artwork.

Subsequently, I have been scouring the internet and nearby stores in an attempt to rectify our situation. While intuition and affordability tend to guide my choice of artworks, the researcher in me can't help but look to published studies to assist in my selection.

It is well established that images of nature can aid recovery and reduce stress. The importance of views of nature on health and wellbeing has been shown in studies of hospitals, workplaces, apartment residences and prisons [1]. For example, patients in hospitals with views of nature have recovered from gall bladder surgery faster than those with views of urban scenes [2]. Similarly, workers with views of nature have not only been shown to be less stressed and more satisfied with their jobs than those with urban views, but have also reported fewer ailments [3].

However, not all scenes containing nature work in equal measure. Scenes with water are thought to have a particularly beneficial effect on one’s emotional state [4], while Psychology Today blogger, Dr Sally Augustin, notes that the most mentally restorative scenes are images of meadow grasses containing scattered groups of trees, as viewed from the top of a slightly elevated position. By contrast, jungle scenes with thick foliage may not be as restorative.

While the above-mentioned studies have been conducted with adults, I was interested to know if their findings could also be applied to children. As the mother of two active toddlers, I am constantly looking for strategies to introduce a little calm into our chaos. One study into the stress-reducing effects of art in pediatric health care found that when compared with a range of impressionist and abstract images, representational artworks of nature were the most preferred image for all age groups between 5 and 17 years [5]. Furthermore, these results were not limited to patients, with healthy school children and adolescents also showing a preference for realism.

Notably, there were no differences in stress-related physiological measures between patients who viewed nature images rather than abstract art, leading to the conclusion that while children and adolescents may prefer nature art, their physiological indicators suggest hospitalized pediatric patients benefit more from social support, such as parental care.

The authors of this study suggested that children should be able to choose the artworks displayed in their hospital rooms, with the majority of the options available to them being nature-based images. I believe this suggestion may also be helpful at home. As my own children become more articulate, we will undoubtedly involve them in decisions regarding artworks. After all, I would like to think our home is a reflection of all of the people who inhabit it, and not just my own particular tastes.

For now, I will continue to pursue representational pictures of natural vistas for our living areas, animal inspired motifs for the kids’ rooms, and a selection of frames to display my children’s own original artwork. In an ideal world, we would create a home that is appreciated by children and adults alike. If our selection of artwork can provide a moment of distraction and inject a little peace and tranquility into our lives, then all the better.


[1] Kaplan R, Kaplan S, Ryan RL. With people in mind: Design and management of everyday nature. Washington, DC: Island Press;1998.

[2] Ulrich RS. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. 1984;224:420–421.

[3] Kaplan R. The role of nature in the context of the workplace. Landscape and Urban Planning. 1993;26:193-201.

[4] Ulrich RS. Natural versus urban scenes: Some psychophysiological effects. Environment and Behavior. 1981;13(5):523-556.

[5] Eisen SL, Ulrich RS, Shepley MM, Varni JW, Sherman S. The stress-reducing effects of art in pediatric health care: Art preferences of healthy children and hospitalized children. Journal of Child Health Care. 2008;12:173.

Photo credit: Image courtesy of anankkml at