A pilot study on the potential for formalized nature-based instruction to mitigate stress and increase social bonds in university students

J Am Coll Health. 2021 Aug 24;1-8. doi: 10.1080/07448481.2021.1943412. Online ahead of print.


Objective: To seek to find a way to address stress and build social bonds among U.S. college students, an East Coast private institution and a West Coast state institution each offered an undergraduate Nature Rx course. Participants: Seventeen undergraduate students were enrolled in the West Coast state institution seminar, and sixteen undergraduate students were enrolled in the East Coast private institution seminar. Methods: A mixed methods approach was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot such that students were given pre- and post-course questionnaires and asked to write reflective essays to describe their experiences in the class. Results: While no significant changes in self-perceived stress were reported in questionnaire items, the qualitative data indicated students attributed their participation in the course with factors that contributed to reduced stress and important social connections. These included a strengthened belief in the value of spending time in nature to reduce stress, the creation and solidification of social bonds, and an expectation that the class would have a lasting impact. Conclusion: Overall, participants indicated they experienced frequent and meaningful interactions with other students and the instructors while gaining greater familiarity with the natural elements of their respective campuses.

Keywords: First-year seminar; Nature Rx; loneliness; mental health; nature instruction; social isolation; stress mitigation; well-being.