Even without the ever-expanding scientific evidence base to confirm it, we can intuitively know the importance of protecting and caring for our environment. What people may not realise, however, is the power and impact natural environments can have on our mental wellbeing.
Research from environmental psychologists has shown that when people are exposed to nature, it decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and the stress hormone of cortisol, and improves psychological well-being. These effects are shown from as little as experiencing images and sounds of a natural environment (Ulrich et al., 1991), to having more green space in our urban communities (Beyer et al., 2014). Other research revealed that just a 90-minute walk in a natural setting compared with an urban setting, showed decreased self-rumination, maladaptive thought patterns and behavioural withdrawal (Bratman, Hamilton, Hann, & Gross, 2015).
For more ongoing engagement with nature, White et al. (2019) found in a large study that 120 minutes per week of time spent in nature was the threshold at which participants have a significant positive association with their wellbeing. Interestingly, this effect remained whether it occurred in one big chunk of time or smaller exposures throughout the week. It also did not matter if time was spent exercising, or just sitting relaxing!
It’s clear that accessible natural areas within urban contexts are a critical resource for maintaining our mental health moving forward. In a school context, lower cortisol, stress, and rumination means not only improved wellbeing, but more capacity for the brain to focus its attention on learning, memory, and new experiences. We are fortunate to have such a healthy natural environment all around us here at Grammar, and perhaps one of our most helpful resources is supporting us to learn from outside of the classroom.
By Fraser Landreth