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The positive impact of nature on social isolation

How can nature connectedness have a positive impact on social isolation and body image? The University of Derby explains this link.
© University of Derby

In this article, we will consider the relationship between nature and two specific wellbeing factors: social isolation and body image.

Social isolation

We know social relationships are really important for wellbeing, so as we’ve found from recent experience, social distancing presents a challenge to keeping well. As social animals, we’re also part of the wider natural world.

Research has found that nearby nature can help us feel connected – nature can offer socially isolated people an alternative way of feeling connected, overcoming the effect of low social connectedness. Furthermore, nature connectedness has been found to predict wellbeing more than how generally connected people feel to family and friends (Zelenski and Nisbet, 2012).

Close relationships with nature

Close relationships with nature can really help. So when noticing nature, we suggest finding a friend nearby, be it the local birds, a favourite tree or squirrels in the park.

Perhaps you could take some action to encourage wildlife closer to your home – provide food for birds and wildlife or grow some bee-friendly plants if you can.

Figure 2.4: Bee-friendly planting Image shows wildflowers surrounded by bees.

Body image

One unexpected association with nature connectedness is that of body image. In two studies, one of British (Swami et al., 2016a) men and woman and one of American (Swami et al., 2016b) men and women, feeling more connected to nature was associated with a more positive body image.

Interestingly, in the American sample, body image was associated with nature connectedness for both men and women whereas, in the British sample, nature connectedness was associated with body image only in women. Research into this association is in its early stages and we need more studies to further explore this relationship.

Reference list

Swami, V., von Nordheim, L., & Barron, D. (2016a) Self-esteem mediates the relationship between connectedness to nature and body appreciation in women, but not men, Body Image, 16, 41–44.

Swami, V., Barron, D., Weis, L., & Furnham, A. (2016b) Bodies in nature: Associations between exposure to nature, connectedness to nature, and body image in U.S. adults, Body Image, 18, 153–161.

Zelenski, J. M. & Nisbet, E. K. (2012) Happiness and feeling connected: the distinct role of nature relatedness, Environment and Behaviour, 14(1), 3-23.

© University of Derby
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