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"Natural pills" the new medicine to control stress

A study confirms the scientific existence of vitamin N pills .

Woman sitting watching a landscape

Research indicates that being in contact with nature can reduce stress. / Photo: Unsplash

The Woman Post | Maria Lourdes Zimmermann

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Leer en español: “Píldoras naturales” la nueva medicina para controlar el estrés

Research from the University of Michigan in the United States, concluded that 20 minutes in contact with nature can significantly decrease the levels of the stress hormone.

The study by MaryCarol Hunter, Landscape Architect and Associate Professor Ecologist at the University of Michigan School of Environment and Sustainability, and her team, recently published by Frontiers in Psychology, showed that staying in the woods or even just gardening or sitting quietly in the backyard significantly reduces stress.

That finding, which the researchers called a "nature pill," has special significance now that a third of the world's population remains in isolation.

The eight-week study involved 36 volunteers who agreed to have a nature experience for at least 10 minutes, at least three times a week. People were free to choose the time of day, the duration and the place of their experience with nature.

Once every two weeks, the participants collected saliva samples before and after taking that day's natural pill or being in contact with nature.

The saliva samples were analyzed for cortisol, a stress hormone, and used to determine whether stress levels had changed at the end of a certain experience in nature. They found that an experience in nature produced a 21.3% per hour drop in cortisol levels, with the highest efficiency (best result for time spent) of natural pills lasting 20 to 30 minutes.

Thereafter, stress relief continues to increase, but at a slower rate. The study provides the first estimates of how experiences in urban nature impact stress levels in the context of daily life.

Participants in the study had no use of cell phones and other electronic devices during experiences in nature. One of the unknowns that was generated after the publication of the study is, if that same result could be generated by being quiet in an empty room for the same time.

To which MaryCarol Hunter replied, "Maybe, but what you do while sitting quietly will make a difference." There are some studies that compare specific activities that are done indoors and outdoors. For example, stress reduction (measured in terms of cortisol) is greater when gardening for 30 minutes compared to sitting inside without seeing nature and reading popular magazines without pictures of nature. Physical exercise provides greater emotional well-being in natural environments than the same activity performed indoors . Mindfulness meditative practices produce greater restorative effects in environments that simulate natural environments compared to urban or indoor environments, explains the researcher.

Also read: Why is it important to breathe well in quarantine? Tips to do it better

How can contact with nature help people reduce stress?

In this time of uncertainty, Hunter says, of social isolation and adaptation to a different lifestyle, spending time in nature, while maintaining proper social distancing, is of course a kind of antidote to our distress. Exposure to nature has many benefits, such as better sleep, reduced inflammation, improved immune function, and among them a better state of mental well-being, including reduced stress, the ability to stay focused, and the experience of wonder. There are also physical benefits, including exposure to cleaner air and beneficial secondary plant compounds (phytoncides) and health-supporting microbes, and the natural production of vitamin D, an important component of a healthy immune system.

But the study in its conclusions does not create an obligation for people to have experiences in forests, if they are not close to them. "We know that the healing impact of an experience in nature does not require a trip or a complete immersion in it," explains the expert. In fact, any place that helps you feel connected to nature will do.

The sense of connection with nature can be passive or active. A passive experience is subconscious. "It is a mild fascination, the kind of things that happen when the mind wanders and you notice the air on your skin, the birds singing and the shape of the trees against the sky, is what was concluded in the study", adds the expert. On the other hand , "an active experience is a conscious interface with some aspect of nature . " For example, a surprising moment adds Hunter, when you look at something beautiful, or you become an observer committed to the workings of nature, such as the way buttons open or pollinators interact with a flower, that experience will help you maintain your stress levels controlled.

During this time of restricted movement, MaryCarol Hunter explains that it is important to try to take a natural pill by sitting quietly in the garden or lying on the ground to look at the sky. “Do some gardening or yard work, or start taking your exercise routine outside.” As you take a walk around the neighborhood, look for trails with trees and other aspects of nature that you find satisfying or exciting to experience. If you can't get outside, looking through a window at the nearby nature will also contribute to your mental well-being. Perhaps you can open that window too, to let in the sounds, smells and nature's touch of the air and the sun, is what the author recommends: A pill that provides vitamin N, nature's pill will be perfect to feel better.

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