Nicholas A. Tonelli/Flickr

Looking at trees can reduce your stress levels, even in the middle of a city

Time to get away from the desk...

JOSH HRALA
8 MAY 2016
 

If you're looking for a simple way to reduce the amount of stress in your life, you might want to go find some trees to hang out under, because a new study suggests that simply taking a walk down a tree-lined street - even in an urban setting - has the power to significantly decrease your stress levels.

Yup, according to a new study, a small dose of nature can really give you a psychological boost. While nature is often cited for its positive, mood-altering properties, this is one of the few times scientists have been able to quantifiably study its effects.

 

Researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Hong Kong recruited 160 participants and proceeded to stress them out in the name of science. This involved having them prepare to deliver a speech – something most people freak out about – and perform a subtraction test in front of judges (we'd be terrified).

Once the participants were fully stressed out, they were asked to view one of 10 six-minute, 360-degree videos showing city scapes that changed only according how much visible tree canopy coverage there was - ranging from 0 to 70 percent, Steven Pace reports for PsyPost.

To monitor stress levels, the participants answered three questionnaires: before the study started; right after delivering their talk or subtraction test; and then following a short break after everything was over with.

Using this information at various points in the experiment, the team was able to plot a graph to analyse the results.

At the end of the day, they developed a 'dose-response curve', which showed that as the amount of tree-density people viewed increased, so did stress reduction.

In other words, the denser the forest, the lower the stress, which suggests that taking a walk down a tree-lined street - or better yet, heading out to a park - could prove beneficial to your mental wellbeing.

 

Of course, this study has its limitations - stress levels were self-reported, and looking at footage of trees isn't the same as immersing yourself in them. But this isn’t the first time researchers have shown that greenery has beneficial effects.

A study back in March found that you can reduce stress by simply looking at images of nature. As Peter Dockrill reported for us:

"The findings, reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 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."

Hopefully, as more research becomes available, we will better understand the impact nature has on our minds. But the early evidence is definitely showing signs that we could all find some solace outdoors.

The team’s findings were published in Environment and Behaviour.

More From ScienceAlert