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What Everyone Ought to Know About Nature & Stress

Posted on by Lauren Updyke. This entry was posted in Staying Healthy. Bookmark the permalink.

For some reason, with anything I commit to in my life, there has to be a challenge, a prize, or a goal. My goal for my new hobby is to keep everything alive.

I am one of those people who is high strung and thrives on stress. I have learned that it is okay to have stress in your life, but what’s important is learning how to manage it and find new ways to relieve it.A common way for me to relieve my stress is through running or any other form of strenuous exercise. While my husband would prefer to lie in an inner tube on a lake and chill, I find the newest running trail.

I realized this year that it was time to find another hobby/stress relief that wasn’t strenuous and instead, with little effort, relaxing. It’s funny, what gave me the idea to pick houseplants as my new hobby was when my husband (professional landscaper) was about to throw away our Spider Plant. We had put it next to the heater so it was dying a slow painful death. As he was about to throw it away, I said, “Wait! Let me try to give it life.” His response was, “Since when are you into houseplants?” (I had been known to be to a plant murderer while we were dating).

I told him this was going to be my new stress relief, but that I needed his help. He was delighted. Every weekend we have purchased two to four more plants, have researched their likes and dislikes, repotted them, and placed them in a good area according to their rules. Currently I am up to 15 house and office plants ranging from our Spider Plant (that has been nursed back to health), to our Christmas cactus, to my new orchid (fingers crossed– I hope she stays with me). I thought maybe down the road I would name them. But, maybe that is taking it to my over achieving level…

I also heard that plants thrive on conversation so I find myself talking louder to the kids so the plants hear me while I dust them off each weekend. This makes my husband laugh. I have also heard they love music so that gives me an excuse to play loud music while cleaning the house. I have to say this new hobby so far has been a blast and has helped me relax while making our house look beautiful with the new décor.

Whether it’s indoor or outdoor plants that are part of your life, nature has an incredible effect on our bodies and our minds. According to Kathy Wolf, PhD, UW Research Social Scientist from College of the Environment, Environmental and Forest Sciences, the experience of nature helps to restore the mind from the mental fatigue of work, contributing to improved work performance and satisfaction.

I was able to catch up with Dr. Wolf and ask her a couple of questions regarding her research and ways we can make the most of nature while on campus.

What do we know about work, stress, and wellness?
Early on, people who studied stress were concerned about the effects of trauma in our lives, such as the loss of a job or death of a loved one. In recent years the focus has turned to the effects of constant low grade stress, such as long commutes, demanding jobs, or simply overly busy lifestyles. Stress can really take its toll on quality of life. If the basic systems of our bodies stay on constant ‘high alert’, a person can develop high blood pressure, faster heart rate, and a concentration of damaging hormones. In time ongoing stress can bring on heart disease, make us more prone to other chronic diseases, and weaken our immune system. These symptoms then affect how well we deal with new stressors in our lives, including those at the workplace.

How does nearby nature help us cope in our busy lives?

There are a number of ways to cope with stress, from lifestyle change to medication. Spending time in forests, parks, and gardens is an inexpensive way to help relieve stress, and such places should be available to everyone in our communities. Studies that have been done over the past 30 years show that brief experiences of nearby nature can reduce stress. One doesn’t have to go to wild places to feel better; the trees, flowers, and shrubs that are just a few feet away from our homes, offices, or classrooms make a difference. Viewing or walking within nearby nature reduces the body’s negative stress responses, and this positive change can happen within a matter of minutes. In addition, enjoying views of nature – through a window or during a walk – can help a person to restore the mental ability to concentrate and focus on tasks back at the desk.

How can I make the most of nature’s benefits when I am on campus?
I have been working on projects about urban nature and health benefits for about 10 years. One can learn more at the Green Cities: Good Health web site. After reading literally hundreds of scientific articles about nearby nature and human wellness I now ‘self-dose’ with nature nearly every day. I make myself leave my desk and go outside for a brief walk a couple of times a day. These breaks help me to continue with demanding work back at the desk.

What are your favorite places?Botanic Garden
My office is on the south side of campus. I really enjoy a quick stroll through the UW Medicinal Herbs Garden. Also, a walk under the majestic sycamore trees of Memorial Way is a truly awesome experience. If I’m in need of a longer walk I’ll go down to the Union Bay Natural Area, and maybe continue to the Center for Urban Horticulture where the gardens are superb. Generally, I find that the UW landscape designers do a fantastic job all around campus; if one looks closely you’ll see a nice variety of plants that provide interesting flowers, colors, and textures during all seasons of the year.

Special thanks to Dr. Wolf for her lending her expertise to The Whole U. Want to learn more about her work? Dr. Wolf combined studies of landscape architecture and environmental psychology for her graduate work at the University of Michigan. Her professional mission is to discover, understand, and communicate human behavior and benefits, as people experience nature in cities and towns. More detailed information about Dr. Wolf’s research can be found at Human Dimensions of Urban Forestry and Green Cities: Good Health.

What types of house or office plants to you have and why? Share so I can add to my collection.