Feeling Stressed? Take a Time Out in Nature

Each month in our Open Voices blog we share insight from leaders in our communities who are advancing what it means to have sacred, open green spaces in our cities. In February, we look at the roots of the TKF Foundation’s mission to provide public greenspaces that offer temporary sanctuary, encourage reflection, provide solace and engender peace and well being.

The influences of stress on general health and incidence of disease is well documented in the medical community. And most of us, simply by carrying out tasks in everyday life, feel the sources and consequences of stress. When we are faced with ‘acute’ stressors in our lives – such as loss of a job, or a divorce – we turn to coping and resilience strategies that immediately address negative emotions or situations. Support for stressful life events can be found in formalized health care centers and community groups.  But, what do we do about chronic stress?

‘Chronic’ stressors such as traffic jams, rolling work deadlines, and meeting childcare needs are a rising concern among healthcare practitioners and community leaders. How might people alleviate the effects of continuous stress in their lives? Health care providers offer clinical diagnosis and treatment if stress response is expressed as serious disease or disorder, yet a growing collection of scientific studies point to preventative medicine techniques. The preventative power of everyday nature experience cannot be overlooked. Having nearby nature, such as a personal garden, public parks, or trees in the streetscape can aid in stress recovery, improving people’s quality of life, and their ability to do better at school and work.
 
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Please share these key findings from foundational stress and nature researchers:

  • The cumulative effect of everyday, low-grade, chronic stresses can have a greater impact on health and well-being than ‘acute’ or extreme events that occur at infrequent intervals (such as loss of a family member or divorce)1 2.
  • Measurable recovery benefits are detected solely from visual encounters with nature3. Urban nature provides calming and inspiring environments that can restore the mind from the mental fatigue of work or studies, improving productivity and creativity.
  • Visual or passive exposure to nearby nature (such as trees, grass, and water), as well as moderate activity in green spaces can effectively reduce stress4 5 and longer exposure is beneficial6.
  • Green spaces enhance and provide opportunities for activity based stress reduction, including exercise, gardening, and walking, lowering cortisol levels and improving cognitive function7 8.
1. McGonagle, KA, & RC Kessler. 1990. Chronic stress, acute stress, and depressive symptoms. American Journal of Community Psychology 18, 5: 681-706.
2. Lepore, SJ, HJ Miles, & JS Levy. 1997. Relation of chronic and episodic stressors to psychological distress, reactivity, and health problems. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 4, 1: 39-59.
3. Ulrich, RS, & R Parsons. 1992. Influences of passive experiences with plants on individual well-being and health. In: D Relf (ed.), The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-Being and Social Development: A National Symposium. Timber Press, pp. 93-103.
4. Ulrich, RS. 1986. Human responses to vegetation and landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning 13: 29-44.
5. Kaplan, R, & S Kaplan. 1989. The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. Cambridge University Press.
6. Korpela, KM, M Ylén, L Tyrväinen, & H Silvennoinen. 2008. Determinants of restorative experiences in everyday favorite places. Health & Place 14, 4: 636-52.
7. Pretty, J, R Hine, & J Peacock. 2006. Green exercise: The benefits of activities in green places. Biologist 53, 3: 143-8.
8. Van Den Berg, AE, & MHG Custers. 2011. Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. Journal of Health Psychology 16, 1: 3-11.

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