The warmth of this past weekend brought with it a reminder of the blessed reprieve that spring brings each and every year.
Like many people, I took advantage of this short burst of warm weather to go outside and take in the fresh air. As I hiked through the woods, I was almost immediately reminded of the calming power that nature possesses. Although it can be difficult to find time to enjoy the outdoors in the middle of winter, research shows that being out amongst nature can have many positive impacts on a person’s health. But what are those benefits, and how can we access them during this time of the year?
Beyond the obvious physical benefits that come from being active outside, research has indicated that nature has many positive impacts on our social, psychological and emotional health. Several studies looking at the impact of viewing nature documentaries or breathtaking images found that doing so increased participant’s positive emotions of awe, wonder, gratitude and reverence. It was also found that viewing nature leads to greater prosocial tendencies (such as generosity, cooperation and kindness and that these social benefits may result from the reminder nature provides that we are part of something that is greater than ourselves.
Research has also found that the presence of nature can reduce stress. One study by Thompson et al. in the U.K. found that individuals that lived near green spaces reported lower levels of stress and had greater declines in cortisol levels (a hormone released when stressed) over the course of the day. Another study found that participants viewing awesome nature images were more likely to report feeling they had time to “get things done” and that their lives were not “slipping away” from them than participants viewing other pleasant images.
Considering the hectic lives and immense stress we experience as college students, the benefits of having time to be “one with nature” are obvious. Unfortunately, it can often be difficult to achieve this due to limitations in time and the harsh conditions present during the winter months.
So how can we receive the benefits that nature has to offer? One way is to periodically check the projected forecast for warmer days. Being in the midwest, our temperatures often fluctuate in the winter, and there are usually a few nice days here and there. If you are aware of those days in advance, you can plan some “nature time” into your schedule beforehand. It also helps to be aware of where you can go to see some truly beautiful nature (cause let’s be honest, the scenery here can be pretty bleak in winter). A few good spots near Macomb include Spring Lake north of town and Argyle State Park near Colchester.
Another option made evident in the literature is simply viewing images or videos of awe-inspiring nature. Many of the studies found benefits present whether the presence of nature was authentic or not. So, if the weather is poor you can always utilize the variety of nature videos available on streaming services or simply browse through nature images on Google. This might be particularly beneficial when you feel stressed studying for an exam or working on a project (rather than browsing social media on your breaks).
So, as the season begins to change and the weather improves, I encourage you to schedule some time to become one with nature again. You’ll be surprised at just how powerful an impact it can have on your perspective and your life.