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Viewing nature videos on social media during the COVID-19 lockdown improved mental well-being, according to study

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Do you enjoy watching videos of cute animals on social media? Do you find that it helps you cope with stress? If you do, you are not alone. 

A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that engaging with nature-related content through social media has provided important support for well-being.1 This University of Surrey study was conceived to understand and monitor well-being during the distress, uncertainty, and isolation that came with the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do researchers know that watching nature videos helped?

Two social media campaigns were considered during the first COVID-19 lockdown in Britain. One campaign was the BBC’s Springwatch (2020) that shared wildlife stories, photos and videos. The second campaign was from naturalist Chris Packham’s nature live stream videos. The public’s comments, reactions and responses to these online nature-related posts were monitored between May-June 2020. These videos received over 25 million views collectively.1 

The researchers analyzed the responses and categorized them into three groups for analysis. 

Watching nature videos encourages the expression of emotion

The first criteria considered involved the emotional responses associated with nature-related posts on social media. These included observed positive responses of joy, relaxation and inspiration. But negative emotions were also apparent. The researchers argue that the freedom to express negative emotions including sadness and sympathy acts as an outlet for people.1 This outlet was deemed especially important during COVID-19 pandemic. 

Watching nature videos inspires cognitive reflection

The second category considered was cognitive reflections associated with nature-related content. These included reflecting on human-nature interaction and how humans can help nature thrive. The discussions via social media regarding these larger issues led to a stronger sense of community.1 The study stressed that this connectedness was especially important during the isolation felt during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

Watching nature videos can help cope with stress

The third category analyzed was the use of nature-related content to reduce stress during COVID-19. Many commenters noted how watching videos allowed them to cope with anxiety. One such group was teachers, who commented that they appreciated watching nature videos on social media to decompress from a challenging day teaching online. Others commented that viewing Chris Packham’s live streams helped them feel less socially isolated, which was a common concern during the pandemic lockdown.1 

Why is it important for us to understand how nature videos impact people? 

“This is an important piece of research that gives us an insight into the impact of the pandemic and associated lockdowns on mental wellbeing,” said Dr. Shi (Tracy) Xu, lead author of the study.2 

“We know that poor mental wellbeing is a major issue for many people and has a significant impact on public health services. This study has deepened the understanding of the link between engaging with nature virtually via social media and wellbeing, and our analysis suggests that these experiences may be related to wellbeing on a broader level.”2

References

  1. Xu, S. et al. (2021). #Springwatch #WildMorningswithChris: Engaging With Nature via Social Media and Wellbeing During the COVID-19 Lockdown. Frontiers in Psychology. Doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2021.701769.

Dyke, J. (2021). Watching nature videos on social media supported mental wellbeing during COVID-19 lockdown, finds study. EurekAlert! Accessed on Oct 20, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/931618

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

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