Nature Documentaries Might Offer Relief From Anxious News Cycles

More reason to catch "Planet Earth II."

If the news of the day keeps stressing you out, the BBC has a message for you: Go watch “Planet Earth II.”

That’s not just because the network is peddling the latest in its stable of high-quality nature documentaries (although, to be sure, it is also doing that). The BBC released the results of a study this week, conducted with Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, analyzing the effects of nature footage on happiness and well-being in more than 7,500 participants from around the world.

Fed clips of “Planet Earth II,” participants reported “significant increases” in positive feelings including awe, curiosity, joy, enthusiasm, relaxation and amusement. Perhaps more importantly, they reported “significant decreases” in nervousness, anxiety, fear, stress, anger and fatigue.

The conclusion fits with the findings of several other scientific studies. A 2015 report out of the journal Environmental Psychology suggested that even looking at pictures of nature could improve mental health, while research presented at last year’s American Psychological Association convention posited that nature footage calmed inmates in a maximum security prison.

A lengthy piece on National Geographic published in 2016 chronicled the history of research on the environment and psychology, noting that Persia’s Cyrus the Great fully recognized nature’s utility by building gardens for relaxation a full 2,500 years ago. He was followed by 16th-century German-Swiss physician Paracelsus and others including William Wordsworth, Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir, building “the spiritual and emotional case for creating the world’s first national parks by claiming that nature had healing powers.”

Lucky for us, now there’s real evidence. Keltner took a look at 150 such studies, finding that “access to nature, both physical and through filmed footage and imagery can help people to manage the stress of modern living.”

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