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Peter Kahn is quoted in this UW News article about the benefits of nature in reducing stress during COVID-19.

Dose of nature at home could help mental health, well-being during COVID-19

Michelle Ma

As residents in Washington and much of the nation are confined to their homes and apartments under COVID-19 restrictions, many people are missing their usual “nature escapes”: that hike to a serene lake, a mountain bike trail through the woods, or even a favorite campground by a river where you can relax and recharge.

As studies have shown — and personal experiences can attest — spending time in nature helps reduce anxiety, improve mental health and well-being, and bolster physical health.

In light of stay-at-home orders, University of Washington researchers share that studies also show there is much to be gained from nature close to home, whether in a yard, on neighborhood walks or even indoors.

“Studies have proven that even the smallest bit of nature — a single tree, a small patch of flowers, a house plant — can generate health benefits,” said Kathleen Wolf, a UW research social scientist in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “Look closely in your neighborhood, and the bit of nature you may have taken for granted up until now may become the focus of your attention and help you feel better.”

Thousands of studies have shown nature’s positive impact on health and well-being, even in urban areas and for people living in more confined areas. One study found that a 20-minute “dose” of nature in cities reduced stress levels. Another showed that more tree cover helped lessen symptoms of depression among residents of nursing homes. A study in Sweden found that access to a garden significantly reduced participants’ stress. Access to gardens or views of nature can even reduce the strength and frequency of food cravings.

Residents who have backyards or balconies can replicate these benefits at home by tending a garden or potted plants, sitting in the grass under a tree, walking barefoot, listening to birds sing or even studying a single flower or leaf and contemplating its every curve and feature...

Experiences with nature can slow the mind’s natural process of rumination, in which we fret about the past and worry about the future in potentially destructive ways, explained psychologist Peter Kahn, a UW professor of psychology and of environmental and forest sciences.

“In these times, I think our minds can be a little out of control. Part of the effect of nature is that it can soften negative conditioned mental patterns,” Kahn explained. “If you can find nature, engage with it and get your heart rate down, then your mind begins to settle. When your mind isn’t ruminating, it can then open to a wider world, where there’s great beauty and healing.”

Read the entire article here.