Feeling Stressed? Find a Tree

Even taking a walk down a tree-lined street in an urban area could prove beneficial to your mental wellbeing. Many have felt that trees and nature can be a useful tool in helping reduce psychological stress associated with our busy lives. While nature is often cited for its positive, mood-altering properties, recent research has helped to quantify what those who enjoy trees and natural areas have long known.

A new study by researchers at University of Illinois reports viewing trees helps people become less stressed - and the effect increases the more trees are visible.  The research subjected a large group of volunteers to mildly stressful scenarios.  After undertaking stress-inducing activities, the volunteers used Virtual Realty headsets to view a selection of six-minute 360-degree videos featuring urban areas with variable amounts of visible tree canopy coverage.

The participants’ levels of stress were measured and the results revealed a positive, linear association between the density of trees and recovery from stress recovery.  According to the researchers, these findings suggest that viewing tree canopy can significantly aid stress recovery and, interestingly enough, that every tree matters.  In other words, the denser the forest, the lower the stress, which suggests that even taking a walk down a tree-lined street in an urban area could prove beneficial to your mental wellbeing.

The study is only the latest in a body of research that has demonstrated the positive psychological benefits of trees and spending time outside in natural environments.

Another study at Glasgow University in 2012 found that any activity in tree-lined areas, from a stroll in the park to a run through woodland, can have a positive effect on people suffering from depression and anxiety. The study also reported that the positive effect on people's mental health was 50 percent greater than they might expect from a workout at the gym.

Viewing tree canopy can significantly reduce recovery and, interestingly enough, the denser the forest, the lower the stress.

The Glasgow research looked at natural and non-natural environments for physical activity, including walking, running and cycling, and found that being around trees and grass lowered brain stress levels. The study involved nearly 2000 physically active participants. Only activities carried out in a natural environment outdoors were found to be associated with a lower risk of poor mental health.

As arborists who work with trees every day, we are not surprised to learn about yet another benefit trees provide…that the human brain reacts positively to being in a tree-filled environment. So if you're looking for a simple way to reduce the amount of stress in your life, something as simple as taking a walk down a tree-lined street, or taking a moment to enjoy a tree during your busy day, has the power to significantly decrease your stress.