Date of the last update: 03.11.2022
For many people, coronavirus is not only a real threat to physical health. It is also a cause of declining mental health. According to estimates, the number of people receiving mental health care is expected to increase by about half a million due to the pandemic. There are a number of factors that contribute to that, including a more static lifestyle, reduced ability to connect with loved ones, and limited access to nature. Research indicates that COVID-19 has made us greater advocates for spending time in nature. What is the relationship between humans and nature in times of a pandemic?
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A study conducted by researchers at the University of Vermont (USA) is an excellent example that confirms changes in human-nature interactions under the influence of the pandemic. The study was released in the Plos One online journal published by the Public Library of Science in late July. The surveyed group of 3,200 residents was asked to indicate whether their outdoor activity was lower, the same or higher than a year ago, even before coronavirus had appeared on the horizon. The statistics clearly show that outdoor activities such as walking, gardening, hiking or even wildlife watching have become much more prevalent among those surveyed. However, activities such as relaxing in nature with others and camping decreased in frequency.
Researchers at the University of Vermont also asked if respondents felt any benefits from interacting with nature. Just under 60% replied that they noticed improved mental health and an increased sense of well-being.
Although the access to research on the effects of Covid-19 on mental health is limited, we know that both patients suffering from the disease and medical personnel struggle with anxiety, insomnia and even depressive disorders. When surveying a population of Chinese students in quarantine, as many as 20% of respondents pointed to anxiety and depressive symptoms. That clearly shows that the ongoing stress during the pandemic can translate into severe mental illnesses. Where does connecting with nature come into all this?
University of Michigan researchers conclude that even as little as twenty minutes a day spent in nature can reduce cortisol levels, also known as the stress hormone. The study was conducted on students whose only task was to enjoy nature for at least 10 minutes three times a week. Then, their cortisol levels in saliva were measured. The results revealed that twenty minutes a day is the optimal “dose” to reduce stress. Thirty minutes, however, produces a more significant decrease in salivary cortisol levels.
So, can contact with nature be the right way to reduce depressive symptoms and anxiety disorders caused by pandemics? Indeed, we, when confined to our homes, feel a greater need to spend time outdoors. Thus, we can say that coronavirus has improved our contact with nature.
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