Feeling lonely? Treat yourself to a walk in a park or a seaside stroll, because research suggests that contact with nature while maintaining urban social interactions, could help decrease feelings of loneliness.
For some, the approach of the holiday season can be synonymous with loneliness. And in these particularly trying times, all means are worth exploring when it comes to overcoming such feelings. According to British researchers, contact with nature could be a good place to start.
The research is published in Scientific Reports and was conducted with 756 people from around the world, using data collected via the Urban Mind application. Participants were asked questions about their social environment, their level of loneliness and social interaction, and the frequency of their contact with nature. The information was collected at three random times of the day over a 15-day period (not including sleep hours).
The study found that feelings of overcrowding increased the feeling of loneliness in participants by 39% on average. But when they could contemplate the trees or listen to birds singing, feelings of loneliness decreased by 28%.
Interactions with others and the feeling of being socially connected and “included” also contributed to reducing the feeling of loneliness by 21%. When this factor is combined with regular contact with nature, the beneficial effect increased by a further 18%.
In other words, contact with nature seems to be a powerful weapon in helping people feel less lonely, and even more so when combined with feelings of social inclusion. For Professor Andrea Mechelli, a researcher at King’s College London and co-author of the study, these two factors combined challenge the idea that cities are intrinsically bad for mental health.
“There can be aspects such as natural features and social inclusivity which can actually decrease loneliness,” the researcher told The Guardian.