If, like me, you have lived in cities all your life, you know that the pace of an urban environment can fray the nerves. Well, there’s a simple way to lower your stress levels: look at some trees.
A study published in the journal Environment & Behavior showed that people generally feel better when they get to look at nature. Researchers from both University of Illinois and the University of Hong Kong, subjected 160 participants to various stressful scenarios in front of judges and cameras, including delivering speeches and doing complex math problems. Once their subjects were good and stressed out, the researchers showed the subjects one of 10 six-minute videos of city streets that changed only in the amount of tree coverage, ranging from 0 to 70 percent.
The thicker the tree-cover, the lower the subjects’ stress levels dropped.
“The findings suggest that keeping a few snapshots of greenery around your work desk might not be a bad idea. When participants viewed the natural images in the experiment, their stress levels lowered, thanks to the activation of their parasympathetic nervous system – which controls certain rest functions,” Science Alert reports.
While the sympathetic nervous system regulates the fight-or-flight response — increased heart rate, myocardial contractility, and sweat production — the parasympathetic system causes slowing of the heart, increased heart-rate variability, stimulation of salivary glands, and other responses that induce relaxation and help compensate for periods of high stress.
“High levels of parasympathetic activity have been associated with numerous benefits including more adaptive emotion regulation strategies and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease,” the researchers write.
So what can you take away from this? Well, if you’re a city dweller like me, spend more time in areas with nature. Take a walk through a park, set natural images as your screen saver, cultivate a little garden in your workspace if possible, and try to break up all those landscapes of drab gray buildings with something leafy and green. While you’re at it, take a look at a video we made of relaxing nature images.