As we examine how to better take care of ourselves and health, there are numerous different options available to all of us. To pick what is the best or most effective can be a bit difficult as there are several variables involved in most health and lifestyle choices. What makes nature therapy a wonderful solution to improve stress recovery and reduce stress is that there are very limited downsides to its use.


The whole “get outside for some fresh air” thing is not just something that people have been saying for years. There’s actual scientific evidence that shows how exposure to scenes of nature can be a great way to take care of your health.

It’s also quite interesting because you don’t have to physically be IN nature to experience the benefits OF nature. That being said, there’s no replacement for genuine nature therapy as there are other things that make being outside a great choice. The reason we’re noting that you don’t have to physically be outside is so there’s no confusion about how all-encompassing nature therapy is. Aside from an extremely minute percentage of the population, this is a technique that can work for everyone:

Conventional Stress and Nature Therapy

Before we dive into exactly what makes visual images of trees and nature great for your health and stress recovery or reduction, we need to look into what takes place during a normal stress response. There is a complex web through which our bodies calculate and respond to stress. This system is called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response and it has quite the job to do while keeping us safe and all threats in check.

As humans have developed, the traditional stress model has stayed basically the same while the causes of stress have not. This is a problem over time because where there used to be physical threats everywhere in the lives of humans, now many threats are emotional and intellectually related. Certain aspects of the NEM Stress Response such as increased heart rate, elevated blood sugar levels, and anti-inflammatory reactions are perfect for running from a threat in the wild but can be very damaging if activated continually because of emotional triggers.

nature therapy and the NEM stress responseThe things that trigger the NEM Stress Response could be issues with a relationship or problems with work. It could even be stress over money. The important thing to be aware of is that regardless of where your stress is coming from, the physical response that you’re experiencing is the same as if there were a physical threat.

If you have a normal amount of stress in your life, there won’t be many long-term adverse effects of a triggered stress response but if you have chronic stress, there will ultimately be consequences for your health.

This brings us to the first example of nature therapy which helps to reduce stress and recover from stress. There was a study at the University of Illinois headed by Bin Jiang and his fellow colleagues which set out to discover what the effects of visualizing trees had on stress recovery. What they found was astounding. There is a relationship with between the percentages of how much tree coverage is present to the levels of cortisol in the blood.

This is groundbreaking information and is based solely on how much nature is seen, not related to sunlight or other variables. Now that we’ve touched on the basics of the study, we can dig a little deeper into what is located in the numbers to discover how meaningful the findings are.

The Extent That Nature Therapy Helps

We’ve talked a bit about how there have been findings to support the claim that nature therapy can reduce stress levels. Let’s see how much cortisol is reduced and for what percentage of the study group. For the 160 subjects in the study, each were given different control measurements of their stress levels and recovery during different stages of the process.

Researching nature therapy

What the researchers found was that there was a bell-shaped response curve to the natural images that showed how there was an ideal amount of tree cover for stress response. When there was hardly any tree cover (two percent) there was almost no difference in stress recovery. However, when the canopy cover was increased to about 24 percent there was a marked improvement in the stress recovery markers for men involved in the study, specifically in cortisol saliva tests and skin conductance levels.

Though there wasn’t a large difference in the cortisol levels of women during the trials, they did show on their self-reports that they felt calming effects associated with the images. The final numbers of the study showed that the group as a whole, regardless of gender, had a 41 percent success with calming effects to the minimal level of exposure to canopy levels.

Correspondingly, there was a 90 percent positive feedback throughout the group regarding the calming benefits of the images when the canopy percentage was increased to above 36 percent.

Nature therapy might be a newer concept among the medical community as far as the consideration for actual stress recovery is concerned but that doesn’t mean that it is without merit. If there is a way to reduce the levels of cortisol in your body after you experience a stressful situation and the method is simply to look at trees, it’s worth a try.

One of the interesting things about this study was that it didn’t take place in nature at all; these were simply images of trees that people were looking at. Whether or not there are added benefits of actually going out into nature for stress reduction on a visual level is not determined by this study – but it is a point of interest for the future.