⚠️ IMPORTANT
Bratman and the authors stress that the current circumstances due to Coronavirus demand that we follow social distancing and other critical precautionary instructions from public health officials – including when spending time outdoors.

Ah, the great outdoors. That intoxicating piney scent of an evergreen forest, the salty seawater glow on your skin after a swim, the parade of puffy clouds marching overhead while stretched out in a flowery meadow—being outside makes us happy and puts us at ease. In fact, an emerging body of research says just that, confirming what many of us already knew in our hearts.

But what if we need a dose of nature’s calming effect and we can’t get to that old-growth forest or Puget Sound shoreline? Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic where all of us are pent-up inside, are there other ways to reap the benefits of Mother Nature’s soothing ways?

Even small doses of the outdoors, like being in our backyard or a neighborhood park, can help. Scientists like UW School of Environmental and Forest SciencesGreg Bratman are finding evidence that access to greenspaces even in our urban environments can have a tremendous impact on mental wellbeing.

“Experimental evidence has revealed that there are often psychological benefits from even short amounts of nature contact,” says Bratman, an expert on the human health benefits associated with spending time in nature. “50-minute walks have been shown to be associated with significant impacts on psychological well-being and cognitive function for some people, and other studies indicate that even shorter amounts of time may provide benefits as well. Other recent work has found that 120 minutes of nature contact a week is associated with improved self-reported good health and well-being.”

Spring is coming when the Washington Park Arbortetum's flowering plants put on a colorful show.
Spring is on its way, and Washington Park Arboretum’s flowering plants will put on a colorful show.

If far away wild places are not an option right now, think about what’s close. Perhaps a stroll through the Washington Park Arboretum or Union Bay Natural Area, or stick even closer to home by going for a walk around the block. Heck, how about just communing with your backyard garden or houseplants?

“Horticultural therapy has demonstrated that interaction with plants can have impacts on well-being, even when taking place indoors,” says Bratman. “Views of nature from windows have also been shown to restore attention and help school students, for example, recover from stressors and perform better on cognitive tests.” Even a brief interaction with nature provides an opportunity for “micro-restorative activity.”

So, give it a try. Take a break from the Groundhog Day we’re all experiencing, step outside, and breathe in that healing dose of nature. And when you’re back from your walk, feeling like you still need more, bring it into your living room with some of our favorite animal and nature cams!

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