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Nature helps people cope with body image issues: Study

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Washington: Do you get negative thoughts and feelings about your body? Don’t worry. All you have to do is to increase your exposure to nature. According to a new study, being in nature helps people deal with negative body image by removing some of the triggers of body image anxiety, such as the focus on social media, and strengthening coping mechanisms to keep negative feelings in perspective.

The research was published in the ‘Ecopsychology Journal’. The research involved 401 participants from the UK, who were asked to complete a survey about their exposure to nature, “rational acceptance”, and body appreciation. Rational acceptance is a coping mechanism, broadly defined as the way people rationalise and keep in perspective any feelings of negative body image that come and go. The study found positive associations between all three measures in both men and women.

The paper, the first to look at how exposure to nature can help the mind cope with temporary feelings of negative body image, concluded that spending time in natural environments provided opportunities for healthy body image coping strategies. This may be due to the physical and mental distancing from the sources of body image threats such as unrealistic appearance standards, mirrors, or social media. Being in nature may also help individuals develop healthier thought processes that allow for more realistic appraisals of body-image threats and their future consequences.

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Lead author Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said, “There is already evidence that being in nature in itself promotes positive body image, but this is the first study to look at how exposure to nature can help the mind cope with temporary feelings of negative body image that we all experience from time to time, and keep a sense of perspective”.

“Being in nature takes us away from some of the triggers for negative body image Instagram posts, models on billboards, mirrors that we find in urban environments and gives us opportunities to put things into perspective. The restorative qualities of these natural environments may also promote healthier cognitive processes, including greater self-control and a feeling of time passing more slowly, giving us the chance to rationalise these threats,” he added.

“We know that positive body image boosts mental health, and this study adds weight to the growing body of evidence about the importance of exposure to nature, and how we need to ensure as a society that everyone has as much access to natural environments as possible,” he concluded.

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