Brain and Body

Just Looking at Trees Can Reduce Your Stress Levels, Study Finds

May 10, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Coniferous forest

Even in urban settings.

Scientists from the University of Illinois and the University of Hong Kong have revealed that there’s a surprisingly simple way to alter your stress levels — looking at trees.

According to their research, just seeing footage of trees was enough to significantly decrease stress levels among the study participants, even in an urban setting.

By no means is this the first study to suggest that nature can have positive effects on our mental and physical well-being — one previous study revealed that breathing in forest air has positive effects on our health through beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils, and negatively-charged ions.

SEE ALSO: More Contact with Nature Could Lead to Less Crime, Study Finds

However, this new study, which appears in the journal Environment & Behavior, is one of the first times that scientists have been able to quantifiably study the positive effects of nature.

They rounded up 160 brave volunteers who were willing to get stressed out in the name of science. The researchers had them prepare to deliver a speech and perform a subtraction test in front of judges — suffice it to say performance anxiety is enough to stress most of us out.

Once the study participants were thoroughly stressed out, they were randomly assigned to view one of 10 six-minute, 360-degree videos that showed cityscapes. The cityscapes varied based on how much visible tree canopy coverage there was, ranging anywhere from 2 to 62 percent.

To measure the participants’ stress levels, they completed three questionnaires — one before the study started, another right after delivering their speech or subtraction test, and a final one following a short break once everything was over with, as PsyPost reports.

With this data, the researchers were able to plot a graph to analyze the results. They developed a dose-response curve describing the relationship between the amount of trees and levels of stress, and found that as the tree-density increased, stress levels went down.

The study does have notable limitations, however. The levels of stress were self-reported, and seeing imagery of trees isn’t the same as being around them in real life. But it’s still pretty compelling that simply seeing footage of trees was enough to reduce the participants’ levels of stress.

Scientific evidence continues to gather evidence that nature is good for our bodies and minds, so making time to get outside and immerse ourselves in it might end up making all the difference. Yes, Netflix can wait.

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