Lockdowns, isolation, and working from home have caused elevated levels of stress for many people: 45% of Americans say they experience anxiety because of the pandemic, according to a UN report. But there are ways to alleviate the stress. Research shows that spending time in nature lowers stress levels – one of the many benefits of grabbing a few minutes to enjoy some greenery or planning a getaway in the great outdoors.
The positive effects were tested through Visit Sweden’s very own initiative, “The 72-Hour Cabin.” With participants from major cities who had demanding jobs, participants were examined before and after spending three consecutive days in the Swedish countryside where they slept in glass cabins next to water. The study proved that being outdoors surrounded only by nature dramatically reduced negative emotions and lowered stress levels.
In Sweden, 70% of the country is covered with forest, and nature is easy to reach, with open fields and meadows, old-growth forests, quiet lakes, miles of coastlines, and thousands of islands. Swedes have a unique Freedom to Roam, The Right of Public Access (‘Allemansrätt’), which maintains that everyone has the right to walk, cycle, ride, ski and camp on any land. With this, it is no wonder Swedes maintain an unusually close relationship to nature and draw from the healing power of spending time outside.
“Natural environments are an important resource for meeting the health challenges in our society. Research shows that time spent outdoors reduces negative emotions and stress, and promotes positive emotions, mental recovery, and performance,” says Cecilia Stenfors, a researcher at the Aging Research Center at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, and the University of Chicago, USA.
As nature experiences are an effective way to provide a bit of normality after months of pandemic-related stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Below are five ways to incorporate a bit of green in your life, as illustrated by the Swedes:
- You only need twenty minutes in nature to reduce stress, so there is no excuse not to pop outside for a few moments, even a lunch time walk will help clear your mind.
- Boost your mental health by taking your meal outside. Swedes dine al fresco nearly all year round and enjoy foraging in nature’s own pantry. For inspiration, check out Visit Sweden’s outdoor dining and do-it-yourself cooking concept, Edible Country.
- Enjoy outdoor activities like the Swedes with cooking, hiking, canoeing, and mountain biking, all of which have proven long-lasting effects on their well-being.
- According to a meta-analysis from the University of East Anglia, published in Environmental Research, nature can lower your blood pressure, cortisol, and heart rate. For those living in cities, even surrounding yourself with indoor plants or even gazing at pictures or videos of nature can be soothing.
- When the time is right, book a trip to enjoy Sweden’s lush landscape and stay high up in the Tree Hotel, or experience a glass cabin, house boat, or maybe even a lighthouse.