- A new study found that a nature-based work intervention reduced workers’ stress levels and improved their cognitive performance.
- Research has also shown that nature experiences improve depression and anxiety.
Feeling stressed at work? Perhaps you’ve returned to work after a pandemic-based break or remote work situation and now you find yourself clenching your jaw, having headaches, or other signs of work-induced stress. Perhaps nature therapy is needed, according to recent research.
A new study recently published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health found that a nature-based work intervention reduced workers’ stress and improved their cognitive performance.
A total of 45 individuals completed the study, with 25 participants randomly assigned to the nature intervention and 20 randomly assigned to the control group. Participants underwent a nature therapy program during work hours that consisted of twice-per-week nature interventions of approximately two hours each for three weeks.
Intervention participants were divided into groups of 8 individuals or less and experienced 1.5 hours of nature therapy preceded by 30 minutes of a stress management discussion in nature (led by psychologists). The nature therapy included programs such as nature walks, a cycling tour, and an edible nature experience. The 3-week length of the intervention was based on previous successful 2-week-long nature programs. The effects of the intervention were impressive, even though it was a relatively brief nature program.
Lowered Stress and Improved Cognition With Nature Therapy
Compared to the control group, nature program participants had improved scores on the Burnout Assessment Tool, as well as lowered cortisol levels (considered the “stress hormone”). Not only were their stress levels lowered, but their cognitive performance also improved, as well. Visual information processing speed and selective attention both improved with the nature therapy program. In other words, a nature experience helped them to feel more relaxed, but also helped them to think more clearly and attentively.
The study consisted primarily of women: 80% of the intervention group were females and 65% of the control group were females. Their mean age was approximately 44 years old. About three-fourths of the participants had at least 4 years of university education and around half of the participants reported experiencing a stress-related condition in their past.
Nature Experiences and Mood Research
Recent research appears to back up the results of this study. A review of studies on the impact of nature programs on mood recently found promise for the use of nature interventions for improving depression and anxiety, with similar findings in a recent review of nature walks’ positive mental health effects. Nature programs have been studied and found to assist in reducing anxiety in children and “forest bathing” programs in particular show promise for reducing anxiety, as in this pilot study on young adults in China. In fact, studies on forest bathing are occurring around the globe, with improved mood for a population of middle-aged women in Taiwan, as well as for individuals experiencing a Mediterranean forest in Spain during the pandemic.
While additional research is needed, nature programs and forest bathing show considerable potential for improving mood, including the reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression.