Regina Ahn, PhD Student, UIUC
Have you ever been too stressed from school? Ever wanted to get some fresh air before exams? If you answered yes to any of these questions, getting outside may be the perfect thing for you!
Most of us tend to rely on television or other forms of social media to relieve stress because not only is it familiar to us but it is also easy to access for us to access them from the comfort of our dorm rooms. When we want to take a study break, our first instinct these days is to listen to music or watch Netflix. But just think about how refreshed your mind could become if you simply sat outside instead, listening to the birds chirping and breathing in the fresh air!
Being in nature is beneficial for everyone, but it is especially good for college students. We might not appreciate the effects of nature at first, but after being outdoors for just a little bit, we can begin to experience that it is very therapeutic. An overwhelming amount of research has shown that nature plays a big role in destressing college students. According to psychologists, a few of the benefits of spending time in nature include stress relief, reduced mental fatigue, and better mood overall.
The thing to note is that enjoying nature does not mean you have to go out and engage in strenuous activities. You do not need to be in the mountains or a fancy lakeside resort to be able to enjoy nature. Simply doing yoga or sitting in an outdoor environment can help clear your mind. Many experiments with college students have shown that time in nature enhances students’ mood. A recent study examined what happens to young minds by comparing a group of college students who took a walk through an arboretum with another group which walked through a downtown area. The researchers found that students who walked through the arboretum had a significantly more positive mood than those who walked downtown (Euegen 2018).
Having green spaces on college campuses can hence, make a huge difference for the well-being of students. A study of 280 Japanese male college students found that students showed fewer depressive symptoms when they were in a forest environment rather than in the city (Seitz et al. 2014). Another study showed that when students had a view of nature, either directly or through a window, they were less likely to feel tired. Even looking at pictures of nature were shown to make students feel more energetic (Felsten 2009).
For college students, taking a study break is very important, and scientists recommend that it is done by spending time in nature instead of sitting at a laptop. Because of this, the locations of students’ dorms greatly affect their health. For instance, one study found that students who lived in dorms surrounded by streets and buildings showed more of a negative mood than those who could see greenery from their dorm room windows (Tennessen 2004). Researchers who conducted a separate study on 72 undergraduate students also found that those who could see views of nature from where they lived performed much better on attention tasks than those who did not have window views of nature.
When I was younger, I was one of those kids who did not like to go outside for fun. I would always want to play games on the computer or watch my favorite TV shows. But when I was in high school, my parents took me on my first ever adventurous family trip to The Great Smoky Mountains. Ever since that trip, my view on nature has completely changed. While we were in Tennessee, we did a lot of hiking, rock climbing, and river rafting. We took an amazing guided tour and the guide gave us a lot of information about insects, and nature in general. After the hikes, I realized that nature has a lot to offer, it was just I who did not appreciate it. During the remainder of our stay at The Great Smoky Mountains, I continued to explore the outdoors and wildlife, and I felt extremely at peace. I also noticed a few things about my health after spending more time in nature: being in the calm, serene environment made me feel relaxed and my overall mood was better than usual as well.
Now that I am in college, I think back to the times when I used to go on walks with my mom. Those evening time walks on school nights were the best because I got to relieve all my stress in the best way possible. We don’t really think about the importance of nature when we’re younger, but it all makes a lot more sense now. Nothing is better than smelling the flowers and fresh air in your own neighborhood. So, don’t be like young me; turn off your TV, just #GetOutside!
For further reading:
- Felsten, Gary. “Where to Take a Study Break on the College Campus: An Attention Restoration Theory Perspective.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 29, no. 1, 2009, pp. 160–167., doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2008.11.006.
- Fuegen, Kathleen, and Kimberly H. Breitenbecher. “Walking and Being Outdoors in Nature Increase Positive Affect and Energy.” Ecopsychology, vol. 10, no. 1, 2018, pp. 14–25., doi:10.1089/eco.2017.0036.
- Seitz, Christopher M., et al. “Identifying and Improving Green Spaces on a College Campus: A Photovoice Study.” Ecopsychology, vol. 6, no. 2, 2014, pp. 98–108., doi:10.1089/eco.2013.0103.
- Tennessen, Carolyn M., and Bernadine Cimprich. “Views to Nature: Effects on Attention.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 15, no. 1, 1995, pp. 77–85., doi:10.1016/0272-4944(95)90016-0.
Do you garden? If not, you might want to consider starting!
People have been caring for and harvesting plants since the dawn of time, but as society continues to move into an urban-based lifestyle, fewer people are gardening for themselves. However, while we may no longer need to grow our own food anymore, learning to garden is still a great idea because it can fulfill more than just our physical needs! Whether it be a garden of vegetables, flowers, herbs, or a combination of the three, growing our own plants has been shown to yield psychological benefits that have lasting effects.
Finding ways to maintain psychological well-being and positive mental health is a must for modern living. This is because our contemporary lifestyle puts us at risk for diseases that come with living a sedentary living: higher consumption of unhealthy foods and high levels of stress. Children today may be suffering with what Richard Louv calls “Nature Deficit Disorder” (2005), a condition that he attributes to the unhealthy habits of modern urban lifestyles and the loss of unstructured play in nature. Research has also shown that the elderly greatly suffer from limited time outdoors, while being outdoors can improve overall mood and health (Louv 2011).
The aesthetic appeal of being outdoors, in addition to exposure to sunlight and fresh air, can help in restoring a connection with the natural world and in preserving cognitive functioning. Gardening is one amazing activity that can draw people of all ages back outside.
Pursuing gardening, whether it be in a small apartment planter or a local community garden, can lower stress levels and increase social connections. A recent study has found that gardening reduces depression, anxiety, and obesity, and helps in increasing life satisfaction, quality of life, and a sense of community (Soga & Yamaura 2016).
Gardening has also been shown to be useful in improving the physical health of adults. According to the National Health Institute, over 1 billion people worldwide are affected by a Vitamin D deficiency, which is a known factor in premature death (Nair & Maseeh 2012). This can be changed by increasing exposure to sunlight, a natural provider of Vitamin D, which can be done simply just by going outside and gardening.
Mental functioning can also be strengthened by gardening, as caring for plants demands the basic information-processing skills of recognition, prediction, control, and evaluation (Gross & Lane 2007). When these mental processes are challenged during gardening, gardeners reap psychological gratification and a healthier mind. Thus, although there are other activities that one can participate in outdoors, caring for plants is an easily-achievable way to relieve stress and improve mental and physical health.
Gardening connects people to each other and improves relationships. A study in Baltimore found that a community garden increased social cohesion among gardeners. People who participated in their local community garden “developed trusting relationships with their neighbors and shared learning experiences” (Poulsen et al. 2014). Being able to interact with neighbors who share common interests, like gardening, can help in creating new friendships and relationships, leading to a higher quality of life.
As a busy college student, I am finding that incorporating gardening in my life helps me destress and reminds me of my family. As a young girl, I often helped my parents pick out vegetables to grow in our annual garden, and even had my own flower box filled with multi-colored marigolds. Three summers picking strawberries on my family farm in northeastern Poland, helped me foster an appreciation and connection to plants. But as I got older, I became more drawn to the calls of Netflix and social media. While I never stopped caring for nature, trips to the garden became sparse, and chances to spend the summer in Europe became increasingly rare.
During my freshman year of college, I sought out an opportunity at a local garden center for a summer job. There my love for gardening resurfaced. I found the most fascinating plants and longed to have them as my own to take care of. I quickly became inspired to start an herb garden my first year working there. I dug out my old marigold flower box and planted some basil, thyme, and rosemary. I found myself spending more time outside. Caring for different living plants gave me a small newfound sense of purpose. I could link this to a part of my identity that I was slowly re-discovering.
I also found myself spending more time with my family. We would work on our own little garden projects on warm afternoons and evenings. My mother, a lifelong gardener, gave me tips and suggestions for my herbs.
Gardening can be an enjoyable experience that can lower stress, improve overall physical health, and increase social ties between people. Leaving the comfort of the indoors to explore a local community garden or taking a trip to a garden center to start your own planter can be the first step in creating — or perhaps reigniting — the joy of gardening.
For further reading:
- Gross, H., Lane N. “Landscapes of the lifespan: Exploring accounts of own gardens and gardening”. Journal of Environmental Psychology., 2007. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.04.003
- Louv, Richard. Last child in the woods: saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2005.
- Nair, R., & Maseeh, A. “Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin.” Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, vol. 3(2), 2012, pp. 118–126. doi:10.4103/0976-500X.95506
- Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y.“Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis.” Preventive Medicine Reports, vol. 5, 2017, pp. 92–99. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007
- Poulsen, M. N., Hulland, K. R. S., Gulas, C. A., Pham, H., Dalglish, S. L., Wilkinson, R. K. and Winch, P. J.“Growing an Urban Oasis: A Qualitative Study of the Perceived Benefits of Community Gardening in Baltimore, Maryland.” CAFÉ, vol. 36, 2014, pp. 69–82. doi:10.1111/cuag.12035
The Children & Nature Network announces the launch of its new online Research Library offering the latest peer-reviewed scientific literature about nature’s impact on children’s learning and healthy development. This expertly curated, free resource offers robust search functionality to help user