Sometimes, we can’t get out into nature and our research shows that people typically spend less than five minutes each day in green space. Developing indirect ways to build nature connectedness helps those with restricted access and can build connection so that people are more likely to seek out nature. As well as improving everyday wellbeing and pro-nature behaviours, we’re also interested in how nature connectedness can be used for therapeutic interventions. The results of our latest research, a student’s Masters project, show how a nature focussed audio meditation can bring large and sustained increases in nature connectedness and improve mental wellbeing. The paper has just been published in the journal Ecopsychology where the final version can be accessed. An earlier version is available here.
Through increasing nature connectedness, we hoped to reduce anxiety and paranoia. Paranoid thoughts, such as the fear that something bad will happen and that others are responsible, are very common and are closely connected with anxiety. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as a psychological intervention for both paranoia-related conditions and anxiety. However, CBT has shown only minimal effects on paranoia. So, there has been growing interest in other approaches, including mindfulness.
However, mindfulness-based approaches can be prohibitive due to factors such as time (a typical MBI takes place over an 8-week course) and accessibility. To address this the use of brief online mindfulness-based interventions (B-MBIs) has been explored with some promising results. There is also promising evidence for the effectiveness of brief nature-imagery and nature connectedness interventions such as our ‘three good things in nature’ intervention which has been to shown to deliver clinically significant improvements in mental health through increasing nature connectedness – which is in itself a desirable outcome given the links to eudemonic wellbeing and pro-nature behaviours.
An obvious next step was to explore whether a brief intervention combining both mindfulness and nature connectedness components is an effective approach to improving nature connectedness and reducing symptoms of anxiety and paranoia. So, we set out to investigate the effects of an online brief mindful nature-connectedness intervention (B-MNCI) on nature connectedness, paranoia and anxiety symptoms in a non-clinical sample.
A randomised controlled trial design was used. Thirty-seven participants were randomly allocated to the intervention group and 35 to the waitlist control group. The average age of those taking part was 26 years, with an age range of 18-50 years. They were English speaking, based in Europe and a good balance of male and females. An online survey was used to collect participant information as well as responses to four psychometric instruments targeting anxiety, paranoia, mindfulness and nature connectedness. Psychometric tests were administered before, immediately after listening to the 10 minute audio meditation for five consecutive days, and again two weeks later.
The script of the B-MNCI focused on activating the five pathways to nature connectedness and in addition to the narration, a background audio recording of a natural soundscape helped the listener imagine themselves in a natural setting. Inspiring nature connectedness was evoked by first inviting participants to bring sensory awareness to nature’s beauty. The audio meditation then gently guided listeners to imagine what the landscape they were listening to might look and feel like. As they imagined sitting within this landscape, they were invited to focus on their sensations, noticing, entering into contact with, and actively engaging with nature. In the final minutes listeners were encouraged to be aware of what emotions the natural space they imagined had evoked, thus becoming emotionally more engaged and reflecting on what nature might mean for them.
You can try the meditation. Make sure to sit in a quiet place and settle into a comfortable position. Gently close your eyes as you listen:
The results showed that the online B-MNCI was effective in bringing about significant increases in nature connectedness and lower paranoia when compared to the control group. It should also be noted that these changes were maintained at the follow-up. However, the same findings were not observed for anxiety. There are very few interventions that have been shown to bring about sustained increases in nature connectedness and the improvement of 17% was also notable. The national fall in nature connectedness from a lockdown high in May 2020 to May 2021 was 16%. A new approach to bringing about sustained increases in nature connectedness is important. As is confirmation that such approaches can improve mental health outcomes. This small study opens up some exciting opportunities for improving the human-nature relationship and therapeutic approaches to mental health.
Muneghina, O., Van Gordon, W., Barrows, P., & Richardson, M. (2021). A Novel Mindful Nature Connectedness Intervention Improves Paranoia but Not Anxiety in a Nonclinical Population. Ecopsychology.