(l to r) Calum Neill, Janelle Gerard, and Katherine Arbuthnott on a park bench in Regina’s Wascana Park near the University’s main campus.
Feeling stressed? Try sitting in a park for five minutes; it might be exactly what you need to boost your mood. That’s what two psychology undergraduate students working in the emerging field of environmental psychology will tell you.
For Gerard, the study has clear implications for students’ mental health.
“Post-secondary students have higher rates of anxiety and depression than the general public, and it’s common for them to not seek treatment, whether because of a financial barrier or other barriers related to stigma,” says Gerard. “Our research is important because nature is typically accessible to everyone.”
It only takes five minutes of sitting in nature (no exercise needed) to feel psychologically better.
Published online in The Journal of Positive Psychology, results from their study have been picked up by local, national, and international media, including the popular psychology news site, PsyPost.
“It’s such an easy, good-news story,” says Arbuthnott. “Short, sweet, simple, and useful.”
For the study, Gerard and Neill surveyed participants before and after they sat on a park bench in Regina’s Wascana Park for five minutes. Gerard found that contact with nature significantly increased positive hedonic emotions (happy, interested, excited) and self-transcendent emotions (awe, wonder). Neill looked at whether longer exposure to nature (five versus 15 minutes of sitting) increased mood benefits. They also included data from previous research related to the effects of nature exposure on emotions for this investigation.
When combined, the students’ research paints a clear picture: a very small amount of time in nature significantly increases positive emotions, while longer exposure doesn’t magnify them. In other words, it only takes five minutes of sitting in nature (no exercise needed) to feel psychologically better.
For Neill, who has now graduated, the study points to the power of green spaces in cities. “Urban planners can make better use of green spaces to help people self-monitor and regulate their emotions.”
Arbuthnott says she’s glad the study has been well received, and that having undergrads engaged in this type of research gives her hope for the generation of students she teaches today.
“Students’ emotional well-being is much more at risk than it’s been before,” she says. “That they’re interested in focusing on how nature influences mental wellness is encouraging to me.”