Contacts with nature during COVID-19 good for well-being and resilience

Contacts with nature during COVID-19 good for well-being and resilience
Cinquantenaire Park, Brussels

A recent study confirms the positive impact of contacts in different forms with nature on well-being and stress reduction during the coronavirus crisis.

The study was conducted by a research team at the University of Haifa, Shamir Research Institute and Samuel Neaman Institute, Israel, and based on a questionnaire in Hebrew and Arabic to about 800 persons. It was published last December in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

The questionnaire included demographic variables such as gender, ethnic and cultural groups, age, and income loss due to the pandemic. Focus in the study was on the correlation between contact with nature and mental well-being during a strict lockdown.

Many countries, including Belgium, imposed strict lockdowns and self-isolation during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, limiting outdoor activities and travels to parks or forests. In Israel, citizens were restricted to remain within 100 m of home. Only limited outside sport activities were allowed.

Most people in developed countries are living in cities. During lockdowns and other emergencies when access to remote nature and nature reserves is forbidden or not possible, studying the impact of access to near nature on well-being is crucial, according to the research team.

Previous research has demonstrated the beneficial effects of contact with nature on human mental and physical health. Many natural features and environments have been found to have a beneficial effect on human health, including parks and street trees in cities.

In this paper, the research team examined three possible ways of maintaining contact with nature during a lockdown: the mere fact that nature was available close to home, nature viewed from home windows, and actually being in nature. In addition, the study included an experimental design that tested the effect of watching nature images versus urban images via a home personal computer.

The study confirmed previous research and found that all nature contact forms are beneficial to well-being. As enhancing positive affect, contact with nature is essential to promote resilience in stressful times.

Even viewing nature images was associated with reduced level of stress and negative affect. Those who viewed nature photos had lower stress levels than those who did not view the photos at all.

The results also showed that nature near home and nature viewed from the windows contributed to higher levels of well-being, and that being in nature on the preceding day was associated with higher levels of positive affect. These benefits emerged also among those who had been economically harmed by the pandemic.

Previous research has suggested that one of the advantages of viewing nature through windows is that there is no time or effort required and no external stressors associated with reaching nature, such as traffic or other factors that might reduce the restorative effect. This advantage is particularly relevant during a crisis that restrict possibilities for going outside.

These results may also be related to the possible unwanted consequences of going outside during a surge in infections when every incidental contact with other people might lead to Covid-19 infection. Even when people do not make actual use of nature, merely knowing that they can reach nature whenever they want and can appreciate nature for its own sake adds value to nature.

The findings indicated that exposure to nature is much more valuable for women than for men. There is no explanation as to why but the research team writes that this finding is important in view of gender differences in the impact of the pandemic on people’s well-being.

After the lifting of the restrictions and the end of the lockdown, it did not come as a surprise that the preferred activity was an outing to nature.

The findings of the study emphasize the importance of providing equal opportunities for all people to be in daily contact with nature, both in normal times and all the more so in times of crisis. The main recommendation that emerges from the study is that in order to develop personal resilience, it is important to develop contacts with nature, including parks and urban nature.

The Brussels Times

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