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Exposure to Nature Positively Affects College Students’ Well-Being and Mental Health
Jil Brevik – School of Film and Acting at the Savannah College for Art and Design

Nature is pure. It possesses a subtle something, an essence, a natural allure in which the human senses are drawn towards. It earns respect through its marvelous mysteries and balance of gentle strength. Nature has a way of showing an unconditional love and willingness to adapt around any circumstance. It never withholds its bounty and justly welcomes all to share from the benefits it can give. There’s something special about the way its elements can heal minds and bodies. Furthermore, studies show that time spent amongst some form of nature is proven to have positive effects on well-being and mental health.

Nature’s endless components work together to create an organic and revitalizing environment. Many studies dive deep into the specifics of nature’s regenerative abilities. van den Berg (2005) brings attention to daylight, fresh air, quiet, plants, views of nature, and other natural elements. Each of these components are found to positively impact the visual, biological, or psychological systems of the body. For example, daylight regulates circadian rhythms, provides vitamin D, and creates visually brighter and cheery atmospheres. Fresh air exposes lungs to oxygen, lessens symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), reduces anxiety, increases energy levels, and improves mood.

Quiet time in nature creates a peaceful atmosphere in which mindfulness, focus, stress relief, proper sleep patterns, and stimulation of brain cells can take place. Plants provide restorative views, air purification, comfort, lessened symptoms of SBS, stress alleviation, pain relief, and improved mood. Dzhambov et al. (2021) explored how the amount of green space exposure, indoors and outdoors, correlated with college students’ mental health. Between May 17th and June 10th of 2022, 323 students recorded the amount of greenery surrounding them and their current mental state. Results showed that more greenery around the participant was associated with reduced depression and anxiety rates and negative symptoms. van den Berg (2005) also touched on the idea that real and simulated views of nature contribute to stress reduction, pain relief, distraction therapy, relaxation, attentiveness, concentration, uplifted mood, and reduction in aggression. Johnson, (2021) specifically studied virtual visual stimuli. One hundred fifty-one college students were shown randomized 1-min videos of nature, wild animals, companion animals, or control conditions before meeting with an advisor. The advisor then tracked the students’ mental status. Results showed that nature and animal stimuli have positive impacts on the students’ mental health and well-being.

Furthermore, Rakow and Ibes (2022) researched how much exposure to nature is preeminent to fully reap benefits. They shared that Cornell Health Clinic began prescribing students to spend 10-20 min of daily exposure to nature. Results showed that students’ moods improved by 86%. Participants who experienced exposure 20-30 min daily had even higher mood improvement rates. For added support, Meredith et al. (2020) explored 14 bibliography databases for literature supporting that time in nature has positive effects on college aged students. Out of 11,799 papers, with matching key words, 13 specifically supported that college-aged students who spend at least 10 min daily, in or around nature, have positive well-being and mental health reactions.

The importance of taking time to exist in or around nature is often underestimated or neglected. Offering an endless source of benefits, nature is accessible to anyone, anywhere, with a desire to partake of its bestowal. Nature’s abilities and generosities provide humans with the resources for well-being and mental health. Nature is capable of surviving without the existence of humans. However, humans are not capable of survival without nature. It maintains and balances itself, which may be why humans can look to it for answers for so many of life’s greatest questions.

Dzhambov, A. M., Lercher, P., Browning, M. H., Stoyanov, D., Petrova, N., Novakov, S., & Dimitrova, D. D. (2021). Does greenery experienced indoors and outdoors provide an escape and support mental health during the COVID-19 quarantine? Environmental Research, 196,110420.

Johnson E.A., Survase, S., Gray. P.B. (2023). Examining the impact of virtual animal stimuli on college students’ affect and perception of their academic advising experience. Animals, 13(9),1522.

Meredith, G. R., Rakow, D. A., Eldermire, E. R., Madsen, C. G., Shelley, S. P., & Sachs, N. A. (2020). Minimum time dose in nature to positively impact the mental health of college-aged students, and how to measure it: A scoping review. Frontiers in Psychology, 2942.

Rakow, D. A., & Ibes, D. C. (2022). Campus Nature Rx: How investing in nature interventions benefits college students. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 960370.

van den Berg, A. E. (2005). Health impacts of healing environments; a review of evidence for benefits of nature, daylight, fresh air, and quiet in healthcare settings. UMCG.