Going to the countryside, even just for a walk, is becoming more and more fashionable. Groups of hikers, people who go for autumn mushrooms and camping holidays are growing. Accustomed as we are to life in big cities and their comforts, what drives us to spend time in such a different environment? Is nature a remedy for stress?
Chronic stress is a major cause of medical and psychological consultation. We all agree that contemporary life has a number of disadvantages that prevent us from relaxing when we need it.
In this article, we will examine these factors to determine if nature is truly a remedy for stress.
Stress and its causes
Stress is a normal, adaptive feeling that allows us to react to emergency situations, but life in the city can sometimes fool the body into believing that it is living in constant danger. This is where we talk about chronic stress. Stress can be caused by multiple factors, both internal and external:
- Biological tendency to stress : some people have a greater ease of emotional activation than others, manifesting stress in situations in which others would not experience it
- Harsh living conditions : Poverty, abuse, natural disasters or chronic diseases are some examples of stressful life situations that favor their becoming chronic.
- Personality characteristics : Several studies have found that certain personality traits, such as lack of assertiveness or impulsivity, predispose to chronic stress.
- Nutrition : although it may seem far-fetched, bad eating habits are linked to stress. An example of this is the abuse of caffeine and processed fats.
- Environment : excess noise, crowded places or lack of free time prevent us from relaxing, helping to chronicize stress.
In order to establish the role of nature in the fight against stress, one must focus on environmental factors. To find out which of these factors may concern you, read on.
How is nature a remedy for stress?
Our relationship with the environment is quite complex. There are thousands of factors linked to each other and to ourselves, and it is often difficult to trace a cause, both inside and outside of us.
On the other hand, the modern way of life has evolved so much in the last few centuries that it is less and less compatible with biology.
Factors such as the work environment, pollution or haste can conflict with the body’s natural rhythms. And it is precisely here that nature comes into action: each of these factors plays its counterpart.
Listen to the silence
The ambient noise in the city is practically constant : the neighbor making noise at all hours, the incessant traffic, the construction sites; there is never a moment of rest. The habit of these sounds becomes so normal on a conscious level that we are almost surprised when it is not there.
Alvarsson and his team compared the performance of two groups engaged in an activity after being exposed to a stressful stimulus. One group was made to listen to the noise of the city and the other to the sounds of nature.
The first group performed significantly worse. It was therefore concluded that the sounds of nature contribute to reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (which warns us of a danger).
Loneliness is also necessary
The human being is a gregarious species and the company of other beings – human and otherwise – is necessary, even minimally, for emotional well-being. Evolutionarily, however, we are used to living in small groups and this means that large crowds can create stress for us. There are even studies linking declining fertility to overpopulation.
When we find ourselves in a natural environment, the simple fact that there are no people around instills a greater feeling of intimacy and introspection, which tends to diminish in situations of constant interaction with other people.
The pollution of a large city does not only concern polluted air, although the latter is included among the promoters of stress and anxiety disorders.
We have already mentioned the excess of noise, but also the light pollution is no less : that of the big cities also affects the body by altering the circadian rhythm, naturally regulated by sunlight.
Nature is a remedy for stress: evidence
We cite the study by MaryCarol R. Hunter in which it was shown that twenty minutes exposure to a natural environment is sufficient to reduce cortisol levels in the blood, even if that environment is located within a large city. The exposure was done without screens, avoiding aerobic exercise and even reading. Only walking or sitting was allowed.
These new discoveries combine progress with biology, giving us new tools to protect health without giving up the comforts of modern life.