When the busy workday gets to be too much, some of us go outside for a much-needed breather to go look at the nature surrounding us. Something about looking at the green world outside of our cubicles refreshes us. Now, there’s new science to back up why nature walks help us reset and feel good about ourselves.
In the latest issue of Body Image journal, an analysis of five separate studies found that exposure to green spaces like a park has a greater effect on boosting our self-esteem than man-made spaces like sidewalks in cities.
Feeling down about yourself? Head outside into nature
To test the mood-boosting powers of nature, researchers recruited adults in London and split them into groups. One randomly assigned group was told to take a walk through Hampstead Heath, a 790-acre green space filled with ponds, hills, and woodlands for them to wander through.
The other group was told to take a walk through an urban environment filled with high-rise buildings, garages, and parking lots. The group that got to walk through greenery experienced a boost in their reported self-esteem, while the group that got stuck walking through traffic on roads experienced a decline in body satisfaction.
But if you are not near a natural oasis, do not fret. In a separate experiment, the researchers found that just looking at pictures of nature was enough to improve our self-esteem. While participants who looked at urban images of factories and city streets experienced no self-esteem boost, participants who looked at nature images of forests and mountains significantly increased their body satisfaction. They were more likely to report feeling more comfortable in their bodies.
Nature is proven to captivate us
Why does looking at nature help us feel at ease with ourselves? The researchers theorize that nature creates the right environment towards helping us reflect and think happier thoughts.
“Natural environments may capture one’s attention in an effective but gentle manner, a process termed … as ‘soft fascination,’ ” the study states. “This undramatic fascination is generally accompanied by feelings of pleasure, such as when one is drawn to the sight of a setting sun or green vistas.
“Such surroundings may be ideal for promoting more positive state body image because they effortlessly hold one’s attention while allowing for simultaneous thought and reflection to occur.”
This conclusion backs up previous studies on the power of nature. One study found that just watching nature documentaries was enough to captivate our attention and make us feel better about ourselves. Participants who watched virtual nature experienced higher levels of amazement and decreased their nervousness, anxiety, and fear.
So next time you’re having a tough day at work, get up from your desk and cheer yourself up with a walk in a nearby green space. Or if that’s an impossibility, find a photo of nature where you can marvel at the greenery within its frame.