Whether you walk a hiking trail through the woods, paddle a kayak or just relax at the beach, being in nature seems to melt the stress away.
The effect is so powerful, some people can even find it amid clouds of mosquitoes.
Behavioral scientists, possibly the ones who enjoy camping, have noticed this mental benefit and backed it up with loads of studies. For example, nature exposure has been linked to lower stress, better mood and reduced risk of mental illness, per Monitor on Psychology magazine, confirming what millions of people who like to go on walks already know.
But what about watching nature shows on TV, or stepping into a natural scene through virtual reality? Doctors certainly wouldn’t recommend that you replace actual outdoor exercise with screen time, but research indicates that yes, technology can give you a taste of the benefits of nature if you’re stuck inside, or in a city where green space is scarce.
Psychologist Eric Johnson, who runs Compass Mental Wellness Services in Seaford, taps in to this phenomenon to help patients relax and engage with treatment. His practice has embraced virtual-reality therapy, immersing patients in scenes of beaches, rainforests and waterfalls. Sometimes, patients just close their eyes and listen to nature sounds from a tablet, envisioning the scene themselves.
“It’s getting into the research of nature and why it relaxes the body,” he says. “It looks like humankind is naturally attracted to nature.”