Posted 07.27.2020 | by AMRA

Natural environments such as woodlands, seashores, and meadows often have a restorative effect on human well-being. These settings allow for distancing from everyday causes of stress and worry, and allow for unique emotional experiences such as beauty, awe, and connection to something profound. Research shows that people who live adjacent to green spaces show lower levels of stress, and people who report a greater connection to nature describe their lives as happier and more meaningful.

Studies rarely investigate whether natural settings can bolster the effects of behavioral interventions. Choe et al. [Landscapes and Urban Planning] investigated whether offering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in nature, as compared to built environments, enhances human well-being.

The researchers randomly assigned 99 British participants (62% female; average age = 36 years) to MBSR offered in three different environments: a public park with trees, shrubs, flower beds, a lawn, and a lake (i.e., nature), a concrete-and-brick courtyard (i.e., the built outdoors), and a windowless seminar room (i.e., the built indoors). All participants attended 6-week versions of MBSR offered in weekly 1-hour group sessions.

Participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), relatedness to nature, mood, depression, anxiety, stress, reflection (curiosity-motivated cognition) and rumination (anxiety-motivated cognition) at baseline, midway through MBSR, and at one week and one month following MBSR completion.

The results showed that all three groups had significant improvements in mindfulness (η2=.09), positive affect (η2=.08), depression (η2=.20), anxiety (η2=.19), and negative affect (η2=.25). There were no significant between-group differences on these measures.

The natural environment group showed a relative significant increase in connectedness to nature (η2=.27) and reflection (η2=.19), and decrease in stress (η2=.94). All three groups showed significant decreases in rumination, but this improvement was larger (η2=.54) for the natural environment group than for the built outdoor (η2=.16) or indoor (η2=.25) groups. There was also a greater tendency for natural environment participants to continue to report reductions in stress during the one-month follow-up period.

The study reveals the additional benefits gained from holding MBSR classes in nature versus built environments. Its largest effect was on the reduction of stress levels, which is a primary target of MBSR. Nature appears to have had a greater effect on the eudaimonic components of happiness (meaning, connectedness) than on the hedonic (positive and negative affect) components of happiness.

While offering MBSR in nature holds promise, it also has potential drawbacks in terms of the disruptive possibility of inclement weather or some participants feeling vulnerable to the observation of nearby strangers. The study doesn’t address whether adding natural features to built environments (e.g., houseplants, nature images) can have a similar effect.

Reference:

Choe, E. Y., Jorgensen, A., & Sheffield, D. (2020). Does a natural environment enhance the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)? Examining the mental health and wellbeing, and nature connectedness benefits. Landscape and Urban Planning, 202, 103886.

[Link to study]