Benefits of Visual Images of Nature in Health Care Settings

Looking at images of nature can improve our health and well-being.

You may be aware of the calming influence that exposure to nature or gardens can have on our physical as well as psychological well-being. Exposure to nature can help to reduce anger, fear, and stress. We experience more positive feelings when we are in a natural environment and it may even reduce blood pressure, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

Spending time in a waiting room can be a frustrating experience and patients are nearly unanimous in their dislike of waiting at their doctors’ offices. Notifying patients how long they will have to wait can ease the frustration of most patients, and so can providing multi-sensory stimulation through environments that require our attention, like nature scenes.

Brain research has shown that the brain is plastic and is able to change and develop throughout life. Impressions and experiences may reprogram connections in our brain. In 1998, Peter Eriksson, neurobiologist and neuroscientist, showed that new nerve cells are formed in the brain of adult people throughout their lives. Brain plasticity is important for the prospects of rehabilitation and functional recovery following illness. Internal and external sensory stimuli can cause changes in neural pathways and synapses, which can benefit the recovery process. 

Providing a stimulating environment may help a person to build  a mind set that prepares them better for rehabilitation, provide a quieter and  more meaningful anticipation, as well as  the ability to listen actively to what the doctor, nurse or other healthcare staff. Insight and understanding what the patient can do to feel better is of great importance. This aspect has traditionally largely been ignored and often the aim is to get the patient out of the hospital setting as quickly as possible. This approach means that valuable information from physicians and health professionals can easily be overlooked in the meeting, ultimately leading to a longer recovery process.

In a Swedish hospital, the wards of seriously ill patients were decorated with motifs from nature and natural bird sounds were played. The images were selected to fit criteria that were believed to reduce stress and enhance well-being. The results from the study suggests that this approach had a positive effect on both the patients and the people working at the hospital. The underlying idea was that the images shoudl be taken from the patient’s environment and that this would help them to think of other aspects of their life than their illness.

Research suggest that:

  • Real or artificial experience of nature may offer pain relief
  • Looking at nature and images of nature may reduce stress
  • Art with nature motifs reduces stress and is preferred by patients
  • Well designed garden reduces stress and increases the satisfaction of both patients and relatives
  • Windows facing nature reduces stress and increases job satisfaction

What sort of images would you pick for your doctor’s waiting room?
What sounds would you like to hear?

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