• July 20th, 2024
  • Saturday, 03:19:19 PM

Exposure to Nature Can Reduce Stress

Photo/Foto: Scott Dressel-Martin/Denver Botanic Gardens

Tiffany Coleman


One of the top trends forecasted for 2020 is a focus on relaxation, and that’s good news because according to the Gallup 2019 Global Emotions Report, Americans are feeling the highest levels of stress, anger and worry that we have in a decade. Among the causes are increased urbanization and accessibility to electronic devices and decreased exposure to nature. We have a nature deficit, and nature, it turns out, is something each of us desperately needs to stay balanced.

Humans have an innate tendency to seek connection with nature and plants, thriving when interacting with living organisms—an evolutionary need called biophilia. Exposure to plants brings a wealth of positive benefits: reduced anxiety and stress, increased focus, decreased depression, enhanced memory retention, improved self-esteem and mood, mitigated symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), boosted creativity, enhanced productivity and attention, and supported overall well-being. We are hardwired to desire nature.

Researchers have measured positive mental, physical and emotional responses from individuals when in wooded areas, viewing forested landscapes, spending time gardening, taking regular breaks in green spaces, and even having exposure to plants in work areas (an easy fit for your desk: bamboo doesn’t need soil—just water to sit in; tillandsia, or the air plant, doesn’t require soil or a pot). In fact, one study revealed that the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for complex behaviors, such as planning, attention, memory, problem solving—became more stabilized in a forested area than in an urban environment. In other words, your brain chills out when in nature.

This is all great news—for the warmer months, right? But it’s the dead of winter! How can you get some decent exposure to plants between now and April? If you’re bored with the park and don’t want to endure the sufferfest that is I-70, here are some suggestions right in the Denver metro area.

Denver Botanic Gardens offers access to a lush display of plants year-round in the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory. This indoor rainforest always has tropical blooms to admire and the humid environment is a welcome break from Colorado’s cold, dry weather. Through February 16, admire hundreds of orchids during the Orchid Showcase (included with admission). Members of the Gardens enjoy free admission all year and SCFD Free Days offer non-members the same experience.

Forest-bathing (shinrin-yoku) is a Japanese tradition that you might have heard of by now; its awareness has been growing in the West. Health benefits derived from this practice may come from exposure to the higher concentration of oxygen in a forest and the presence of phytoncides—natural oils emitted by plants and trees that protect them from harmful insects and disease. The key to “proper” forest-bathing is to engage each of the senses as you slowly walk through the woods. By engaging the senses, you practice mindfulness and remain in the present moment—instead of dwelling on the past or fretting over the future. Denver Botanic Gardens offers forest-bathing classes at Chatfield Farms in Littleton beginning in February.

You can also incorporate some relaxation-inducing plants into your routine. Chamomile has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory and calming properties, and can soothe an upset stomach, headaches and anxiety. To relax, drink a cup of chamomile tea after work; for restful sleep, an hour before bed. Aromatic rose petals can relieve emotional grief and inflammation; research shows that rose has mood-lifting effects. Drink rose petal and rose hip tea or use a topical application of rosewater or rose oil for this plant’s benefits. Tulsi, known as holy basil, is a sacred and respected plant in India that has been used for nearly 3,000 years. Tulsi can encourage a sense of well-being and may help sharpen the mind when stress and lack of sleep have dulled it. Use tulsi like you would culinary basil: add it to soups, stir-fries, salads…or drink a cup of tea. The Gardens offers ongoing herbalism and culinary classes throughout the year.

Steps toward stress reduction don’t have to be complicated—actions may be as simple as stepping outside, viewing a botanical picture or sipping herbal tea. So, make it a point to stop and smell the roses—literally. It’s a new decade, after all.

For more information on the Denver Botanic Gardens:

botanicgardens.org or call York St location at 720-865-3500 or Chatfield Farms at 720-865-3500.


Tiffany Coleman is the Marketing Manager with the Denver Botanic Gardens.

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