According to recent research published in Frontiers Psychology, spending just 20 minutes a day in nature may be the most efficient way to reduce stress levels. The research looked at 44 participants who spent at least 10 minutes a day in nature, three times a week for an eight-week period. The experiment was referred to as the “nature pill”.
Participants were required to avoid talking, physical exercise, and reading while carrying out the experiment. No phones, social media, or internet access was allowed either. The participants had to have an unconditional “true” contact with nature. But the participants were allowed to pick what type of nature experience they wanted. They could go to a park, go on a hike, sit at the beach, etc. All that was required was that they give mother nature their undivided attention for at least 10 minutes.
The researchers wanted the participants to have some sense of choice and flexibility so that they could try to narrow down the most optimal amount of time to stay in nature to reduce stress. Participants periodically provided samples of their saliva so that researchers could test hormone levels.
Surprisingly, researchers found that the participants’ cortisol levels decreased by up to 21 percent per hour when they spent time in nature. if the participants spent time in nature for 20-30 minutes, their cortisol levels were reduced by 12 percent per hour.
Cortisol is a stress inducing hormone – it’s actually the body’s primary stress hormone – that controls the mood, motivations, and fear centers of your brain. It functions most similar to a built-in alarm system and is produced by the adrenal glands. If cortisol levels get too high, it means your body is overstressed and it can cause some pretty unwanted symptoms:
- Heart disease
- Memory problems
- Concentration problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight gain
Now that you are aware of the connection between stress reduction and nature, it becomes pretty simple to reduce some of these symptoms. Just begin to find little ways to sneak nature into your life. Take a stroll through the park on your lunch break, enjoy picnics more often, play a round of volleyball on the beach. Try to just enjoy your life outside a little bit more but stay in the moment. Don’t get on your phone or find ways to distract yourself, simply let your mind enjoy what’s out there. Especially, don’t use your phone while you are having your lunch. Try and spend your lunch breaks outside of your confined office space once in a while so you can actually relish what you carry in your lunchbox!