11 Stress-Busting Gifts for Bringing Nature’s Calm Inside
One of the easiest science-backed methods for reducing stress and boosting mood is to spend more time in nature. Whether that be in a forest, park, or garden, a growing body of evidence suggests that engaging with nature provides a host of mental health and well-being benefits, including mitigation of anxiety and depression, improved sleep quality, increased happiness, and improved concentration. The effects are so well documented that health care facilities now often incorporate green spaces and gardens into their designs, and some doctors are even prescribing walks in the park to patients alongside conventional treatments.
Nature-based therapy has long been practiced across several cultures, including in Japan, where there is a robust cultural ecosystem that supports the practice of “forest bathing,” or the act of being fully present in nature, taking it in through all five senses. When green spaces are readily accessible in a community, they promote more than psychological relaxation, simultaneously encouraging physical activity, social cohesion, and a sense of awe–all important elements for cultivating happiness and overall well-being. Centenarians in the blue zones regions of the world spent time outdoors every day, working, cooking, walking around their towns, gardening, working, eating alfresco, or visiting neighbors and friends. Vitamin D from sunlight exposure may amplify the mood-boosting, immune-strengthening, and sleep-improving effects of spending time in nature.
But access to nature is not equal. Communities of color and low-income communities are less likely to live near parks, open spaces, and coastlines than White and affluent communities. And in some regions of the world, long and harsh winters can make it harder to be outside for several months out of the year. For those who have limited access to green space or time to enjoy it, there are still a number of ways to replicate the health benefits of spending time in nature. The gifts below are wonderful options for plant lovers, apartment dwellers, kids, and nature novices alike to bring a bit of nature into the home.
$26 at Plantstraws
Several studies have shown that indoor plants bring both psychological and physical health benefits, including lower stress and anxiety, better mood, reduced fatigue, improved focus, and better air quality. To reap these benefits, it is important to keep houseplants alive and thriving. Not everyone was born with a green thumb, and luckily, some basic tools exist to make plant care easier.
Plant straws are one such tool, creatively doubling as abstract decor. A cotton wick runs through each straw and pulls water from a jar, bowl, or bottle into the plant’s soil, delivering a gradual stream of moisture to the roots. This saves time on watering and makes maintenance a breeze. The straws come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors–a trendy gift for houseplant enthusiasts and hopefuls alike.
$41 on Amazon
This innovative device harnesses sunlight to create dazzling and mesmerizing rainbow effects on the surrounding walls. Simply attach it to a sunny window and enjoy. No batteries or electricity are required, so these are both easy to maintain and environmentally friendly. Place one in an office, kid’s room, kitchen, or anywhere else an extra touch of color is needed.
$25 on Amazon
Gardening, a common practice across the blue zones, is an excellent way to move naturally, shed stress, and improve cognitive function. For those who don’t have access to a large plot of land, creating a balcony garden or a kitchen herb garden can provide the same benefits for stress levels and mood.
No matter what a garden looks like, it always starts with a seed. Most seed starts at the plant store come in plastic or peat pots, but an easy, fun, and eco-friendly alternative is to create seed pots out of paper. This nifty hand tool can be used to turn newspaper, grocery bags, or wrapping paper into an endless supply of small seed pots for a budding garden. While the tool itself makes for a great gift, a set of handmade paper pots with personalized touches would be a thoughtful DIY gift too!
$17 on Amazon
Horticulture (growing fruits, vegetables, or flowers) can be a helpful tool for promoting well-being. Horticultural therapy has been around for centuries, and the practice of gardening to calm the senses dating as far back as 2000 B.C. Modern research has shown that horticultural therapy can also increase feelings of well-being among those with anxiety, depression, dementia, and more.
Growing one’s first avocado tree is a great place to start. All that’s required is an avocado pit (the seed), some water, and a sprouting vase like this one. In time, a sprouting seed can be transferred to soil, where it will one day become a tree of healthy, delicious avocados.
$65 at Likha (prices vary)
These whimsical animal-shaped planters add an extra touch of playfulness and joy to the average houseplant. They are handmade out of sustainably-sourced coconut fibers, and each purchase supports artisan communities in the Philippines. An ideal gift for families with children, these are a fun way to create excitement around nature and plant care at a young age.
$37 on Amazon
Mushrooms are staple foods in the Okinawan diet, offering a host of longevity benefits. Across varieties, mushrooms are a great source of protein, B-vitamins, fiber, and much more. Shiitake mushrooms in particular have uses as both food and medicine, and their savory umami flavor makes them an ideal substitute for meat in a variety of dishes.
This grow kit features everything needed to grow shiitake mushrooms at home in just 10 days. It comes with an inoculated shiitake grow log, spray bottle, vented humidity tent, and a grow guide to talk users through the process. And no backyard is necessary–these kits can grow mushrooms indoors and year-round!
$20 on Amazon
Research has shown that being immersed in the sounds of nature produces a number of well-being benefits. Listening to woodland sounds can significantly reduce stress hormones–a study commissioned by the National Trust found that doing so for just one minute resulted in participants feeling 30 percent more relaxed than before. Sounds of ocean waves, trickling streams, and waterfalls provide similar benefits, including improved mood, decreased stress, and enhanced cognitive performance.
This pocket sound machine can be a particularly helpful tool to bring these calming sounds of nature indoors. It comes with a library of 15 sounds, including crashing waves, chirping insects, birdsong, crackling campfires, and more. Turn it on during a morning meditation, midday lunch break, or before a bedtime routine to calm the nervous system.
$38 on Amazon
Diversify a plant-lover’s collection with the addition of this unique, beautiful indoor bonsai tree. Trees can take much longer to grow than traditional houseplants, but this one comes six years pre-grown. Each spring, it will boast decorative white blossoms that contrast beautifully against its dark green leaves, sure to spark conversation among guests. This variety also enjoys warmer temperatures during the winter, making it a suitable indoor plant for those without backyards or gardens.
$22 on Amazon
Sunlight is a critical source of vitamin D, and in the U.S. alone, 42 percent of adults are deficient. Vitamin D helps to support the immune system and bone health, and sunlight exposure has been linked to increased happiness and decreased fatigue. Studies show that workers in windowless offices are less happy and less healthy than their coworkers who receive steady sources of daylight, and students who sit close to windows perform better too.
For those who live or work in places where the sun is, or who work in environments that keep them out of the sun for most of the day, artificial sun lamps can help provide the benefits of a daily dose of sun. Try one out in an office or bedroom to brighten the home and increase focus and energy throughout the day.
$12 on Amazon
Art is another surprising way to bring the positive effects of nature into the home. Research has shown that simply looking at an image, photo, or video of nature can result in feelings of relaxation. Framed paintings, prints, or photos of trees, beaches, mountains, or any natural landscape can serve as gifts for any occasion and are a unique way to bring the positive benefits of nature inside.
Sophia Piña-McMahon is the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Blue Zones. She is a multimedia journalist and digital marketing professional who specializes in stories at the nexus of food, culture, health, and the environment. Sophia’s work has previously been published in Lonely Planet, the Mad Agriculture Journal, and local news outlets. She holds a Masters of the Environment in Sustainable Food Systems from University of Colorado Boulder and a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology and Geography from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.