Using Nature To Reduce Stress and Boost Mental Health:

Exposure to nature has great benefits, particularly towards our sense of mental well-being and mental health. Yet until some research published this month, the duration of time required to benefit from being around nature was less clear.

This was the first study to employ long term, repeated assessment and, rather than being prescriptive, participants were able to choose the time of day, duration and the place of their nature experience based upon personal preference and changing daily schedules. In this way, it was much more like 'real-life' than a laboratory controlled experiment to assess the impact of a nature experience on stress (using two physiological saliva biomarkers).

Now I don't know about you but I love those moments where you can find a peaceful spot in nature away from all the usual hustle and bustle, noise and demands of everyday life. About forty minutes down the road from me there is an RSPB nature reserve which is a wonderful place to find that sense of tranquility and peace, even if like me, bird watching is not high up on your list. 

As a family we've recently rejoined the National Trust and although these sorts of places can get crowded sometimes, there is usually some woodland of secluded natural space to wander around and explore. The other weekend we headed over to Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds to grab some family time in nature away from screens and shops.

Now, as it happens peace and quiet weren't quite the order of that day because there was a Napoleonic Way re-enactment going on (think cannons, soldiers and guns!). That said, it was a great experience to stand, watch and enjoy the re-enactment. Certainly it was a lovely mental escape to just be present, watch and enjoy without a million other distractions and thoughts going on (a different form of being present and mindful!). I think you've got to be impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of all involved (particularly as they camped out in the wind, cold and rain all weekend to put their passion into practice).

Yet, in the absence of a full scale mock war, how can you use the latest research to improve your own mental health and well-being and to reduce stress in your daily life?

And, just before I move onto that, these pictures may give you some idea of the Napoleonic warfare that took over the place. And yes that is Napoleon himself in the brown coat with his back to us! (poor Napoleon could probably do with some hypnotherapy himself for his self-esteem and stress because he loses every time!):

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You wouldn't want to mess with this guy on the horse waving his sword around!

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This one is in the aftermath of the war when everyone was friends again and the 'dead' got to rise and fight another day:

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 And I think the kids enjoyed themselves (or maybe they'd been promised chocolate...):

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Using Nature To Reduce Stress 

As mentioned above, research has recently been published (April 2019) that looked at how you can benefit from using nature experiences to reduce stress. 

The researchers (Hunter, Gillespie and Chen), carried out the first study to employ long term, repeated measure assessment and was the first study within which participants were free to choose the time of day, duration and the place of a nature experience in response to personal preference and changing daily schedules. 

Whilst nature experiences have already been shown to promote a better state of mental wellbeing, until this study, it was less clear what sort of duration was required to reduce stress and promote mental health. 

During the eight week experiment, participants were asked to maintain a regime of three nature experiences a week (each lasting ten minutes or more). They were instructed to comply with this in the context of the unpredictable opportunity for taking a 'nature pill' in their daily lives (i.e. to customize the nature experience in response to the constraints and unpredictability of real life by being in control of the date, time of day and duration). A 'nature experience' was defined as spending time in an outdoor place that brings a sense of contact with nature. Saliva tests were taken to measure two physiological biomarkers of stress.

The study found that spending time with nature produced significant benefits in reducing stress. They found that 'the efficiency of a nature pill per time expended was greatest between 20 and 30 min, after which benefits continued to accrue, but at a reduced rate." 

Good old nature eh?! Taking time in nature can help reduce your stress and need only be a twenty minute job in order to gain the benefits. And even more useful to know in the context of all the responsiblities in our lives, you can be pretty flexible in terms of where, when and the length of the nature experience to reduce your stress (making it much, much easier to maintain it and protect your mental health and well-being).

So there's no better reason to get out there (particularly as the weather improves) and to get close to nature and do benefit from reducing your stress levels. 

Although, based on my recent attempt, it may be worth making sure Napoleon and his army aren't also planning a nature experience in the same place that you are planning to go!! 

To your success

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

 

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Reference: Hunter MR, Gillespie BW and Chen SY-P (2019). Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Front. Psychol. 10:722. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722