Relative frequency of participants engaging in various types of nature engagement during the
SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The individual items were grouped into three categories of nature engagement for
analyses (nearby nature, nature-excursions, and nature-media).

By Tina Phillips, Nancy Wells, Abigail Brown, Jordan Tralins, and David Bonter.

Read the full paper here.

Nature has been shown to positively contribute to human health and well-being. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, patterns of nature engagement have shifted as the result of lockdowns, social distancing, and travel restrictions. Additionally, some studies have documented altered well-being and mental health during the pandemic. Given nature’s established health benefits, we explored the association between exposure to different types of nature activities during the pandemic and well-being outcomes like loneliness, rumination, mental health, and pandemic emotional impact. Specifically, we examined three distinct forms of nature engagement including nearby nature, nature excursions, and nature engagement via media. We also looked at how feeling connected to nature is associated with well-being.

In our study, we conducted an online cross-sectional survey of over 3,200 adults across the United States. Our participants stemmed from two main groups—members of the general public and members of a U.S. non-government organization focused on conserving birds and biodiversity. Ultimately, we found that greater engagement with nearby nature during the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with less rumination, less pandemic emotional impact, and better mental health. A few examples of nearby nature include birdwatching, gardening, and watching nature out a window. Interestingly, we found that nature excursions like camping or backpacking and media-based nature engagements were associated with greater loneliness, more pandemic emotional impact, and worse mental health. Media-based nature engagement was also associated with greater rumination. Connection to nature was associated with less loneliness and better mental health.

Our findings add to the body of literature that connection to nature and increasing engagement with nearby nature in your own backyard or neighborhood can be restorative and enhance human well-being, especially during a challenging event like a pandemic.