When you are trapped indoors at work and dream about the calming effects of the outdoors, there is something you might be able to do. It is scientifically proven that being surrounded by green space helps both your mental and physical health. But apparently when you can’t get the real thing, even an image of it will do.
A team of researchers at Vrije University Medical Center in the Netherlands discovered that college students suffering from acute anxiety were calmed by looking at images of greenery – even sparse one. Magdalena van den Berg, occupational health specialist at Vrije University and lead author of the paper, told the New York Times that “Finding an effect with regard to such weak, even boring visual stimuli—no spectacular green views, no sound, no smells et cetera—is surprising.”
The study focused on 46 students and asked them to look at images of patches of green scenery in urban environments for five minutes. Then, the students had to complete some math exercises using a computer program that told them when they were performing below average in order to make them feel stressed. During this activity, scientists were monitoring their hearts – higher heart rates translated to higher stress levels. Those who looked at images of greenery after feeling stressed had a decreased heart level, showing that they were calming down. But those who looked at the same pictures before the test felt the same level of anxiety.
Van den Berg believes that even if this study was small, stress could be lowered if people had access to images of green spaces or, even better, be able to go outside for a break.