- Spending time in nature may enhance cognitive processes and help people cope when they feel negative about their bodies.
- A number of factors, such as nature’s interaction with the brain and time away from technology, could explain this finding.
- Ensuring everyone has access to the natural environment is critical to supporting well-being.
On days when you’re struggling with negative thoughts about your body, many different coping mechanisms can help. But new research suggests you should get outside and spend time in nature soothe those feelings.
Negative body image is a risk factor for behaviors such as eating disorders, This can have disastrous consequences for a person’s body, mind, and relationships. It’s hard to avoid negative body thoughts when browsing social media these days.
Because of this, Dr Viren Swami, professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK, sees negative body image as a major global public health problem. His research focuses on methods of promoting physical acceptance.
Recently, he and colleagues found that spending more time in nature may support cognitive processes and help people recover when they have negative thoughts about their bodies.The study was published in the journal Ecopsychology Early January.
“I hope that the research I do – and the research that many other scholars have undertaken – will one day mean that our children grow up in society where they are valued and cared for because of their abilities, not their abilities. . looks like,” Swami told VigorTip via email.
Nature can help us cope
In previous studies, being in a natural environment was repeatedly associated with having a positive body image, as opposed to built environments such as cities and highways. Even seeing pictures of trees, mountains, and lakes can at least temporarily quell negative self-talk about your appearance.
To study how nature helps us feel better about our bodies, Swami and his colleagues surveyed about 400 people about their physical appreciation, exposure to nature, and “positive rational acceptance,” or strategies they used to help themselves feel better about themselves. How often your body feels better.
What is positive rational acceptance?
The term “Positive Rational Acceptance” comes from a subscale of the Body Image Coping Strategies Scale, which is used to assess personal dependence emphasizing “positive self-care, rational self-talk, and acceptance of one’s experiences in the face of body image threats.” For example, how often do you remind yourself of what you like about yourself when your body feels low?
After collecting all the responses, Swami noticed that as the time participants spent in nature (urban parks, beaches, rural areas, etc.) increased, so did their physical appreciation and acceptance of positive rationality Increase.
According to Swami, they then conducted further analysis and found that those who spent more time in nature were more likely to deal with negative body image in a positive, rational way. Therefore, this coping strategy may have led them to develop a greater appreciation for their bodies.
These results may shed light on one way in which natural exposure helps people protect themselves from negative body self-talk. However, it is important to remember that the survey responses reflected a small sample of adults and not particularly diverse.
Although the participants ranged in age — from 18 to 76 — they were otherwise homogeneous. All participants were also based in the UK, and most were identified as white and heterosexual. There was no mention of disability, so it’s hard to say whether the findings apply to visible or invisible disabilities.
Furthermore, this study is relevant. In other words, people with more positive body image coping mechanisms may be more likely to spend time in nature. The authors note that the study’s design fails to demonstrate a causal relationship between time in nature and positive rational self-talk.
Many factors are at play
So why does increased exposure to nature help us cope with negative body image?
Exercise and fresh air may support this positive feeling. But given that even pictures of nature may enhance how we feel about our bodies, physical experience alone doesn’t explain these findings.
Swami suspects that many factors are at play here. Perhaps watching and/or being in a natural environment supports cognitive processes related to self-control and logical evaluation, which can promote rational self-talk.
In addition, he says, natural exposure has been linked to self-esteem and optimism, which can improve focus. That said, nature may support living in the present moment and paying attention to what’s in front of you without too much judgment or obsessive thinking.
Being truly unplugged can also make time feel slower. Imagine sitting on a park bench or at the beach for hours without looking at your phone or any other electronics.Swami added that these experiences may “give individuals space to develop more rational assessments” [body image] threat. ”
A reduced chance of comparing yourself to others on social media may also have something to do with it.
what does this mean to you
If you’re struggling with negative emotions in your body, getting outside and immersing yourself in nature can help ease some of those thoughts. Try walking a long way or heading to a nearby park to clear your mind.
An organization that supports this connection with nature
To Dr. Nícola Wagenberg, a clinical and cultural psychologist in San Francisco, these results were not at all surprising. Sometimes just being immersed in nature, Waggenberg says, we can feel connected to and be part of something bigger.
While Wagenberg doesn’t see her clients in their natural environment, she does facilitate such projects. One of these is the Society for the Preservation of Culture’s Keepers of the Waters (GOTW), which brings Native American urban youth into nature with activities that connect them with Indigenous culture, traditions and history.
The many activities that GOTW youth participate in connect them to the land. For example, one activity involved learning how to build a traditional canoe. Another involves eating foods that indigenous peoples cultivated, cooked and ate on the land hundreds of years ago.
By connecting to their Indigenous roots through food, land and water, GOTW youth are able to confront tough topics such as body shame and the pressure to conform to Western ideals of beauty, Wagenberg said.
“[After completing the program] you hear these young women [in GOTW] Say they feel completely different about their bodies,” Waggenberger said.
The need for equal access to nature
More research is needed to understand exactly how nature promotes physical acceptance. However, Swami says this is all part of a larger goal of demonstrating the need for equal access to nature. “I can’t think of a more cost-effective way to ensure health benefits than exposure to the natural environment,” Swami said.
Negative body image can lead to eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, and decreased confidence. What’s more, those who are more susceptible to negative body image may have less exposure to nature, and vice versa.
“Access to natural environments is often unequal – influenced by gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic class, meaning that those socially identified groups that benefit most from naturally exposed body image-related outcomes are often marginalized by these spaces,” The author writes.
Swami stressed that this need not always be the case. “I want to try to change that – by giving individuals, families, communities and policymakers the tools and knowledge to develop and promote a healthier body image,” Swami added.
He pointed out that it all depends on socio-political changes. But more tools and information, including research, point to the importance of natural spaces to our health. “When people engage with nature, they are more likely to use these spaces, feel a connection to nature, and make healthier lifestyle choices,” Swami said.