How to Destress With Calming Pictures
Certain images, colors, and shapes have a calming effect. Learn how and why you can destress with pictures.
Medically reviewed by Michael MacIntyre, MD
Stress can cause a number of health problems, ranging from heart disease to seizures to insomnia. Getting a massage or doing breathing exercises are some common methods for alleviating stress, but these don’t work for everyone. They can also take more time than you might have available. Instead, try looking at calming pictures to help you feel less stressed.
Looking at calming pictures is a form of mindfulness meditation, in which you maintain your attention or awareness on a present moments through meditation.1 If you’ve ever heard the phrases “zone out” or “take a mental vacation” that’s exactly what calming pictures have the power to do for your mind and, therefore, your overall wellness.
Learn more about what makes pictures calming and how to use calming pictures to destress.
Types of Calming Pictures
Here’s what research tells us about why certain images and colors are so soothing.
Going into nature has a calming effect, but looking at pictures of nature can also help. According to a study, looking at calming pictures of nature reduces activity in the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex. This area of the brain is involved in regulating emotion and can be hyperactive when you experience anxiety or depression, causing feelings like stress or worry.2
The study also compared looking at calming pictures of forests versus calming pictures of cities. Results showed that the forest pictures similarly reduced activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, increasing comfort and relaxation.2
The connection between nature and relaxation is no secret. In fact, research found that simply living near green space is associated with improved mental health and well-being.3
Many white noise machines include a “whoosh” of crashing waves, but even looking at calming pictures of the ocean might have a similar relaxing effect. A 2021 survey study showed a link between ocean views and better mental health. Increased views of blue space (like seascapes) were associated with less stress.
Natural fractals are repeating patterns that recur on finer and finer scales. They can be found almost everywhere in nature, including in shells, flowers, leaves, snowflakes, and river deltas. There are also human-made fractals, which are artificially-made designs found in architecture.
And, according to a study published in 2021, fractals can reduce stress. Fractal patterns are associated with positive psychological experiences, particularly relaxation. If you want to look at a fractal to reduce stress, try looking at a succulent or a sunflower.5
What Colors Are Calming?
In addition to calming pictures, colors can have a major impact on stress levels. Blue and green, in particular, can do wonders for your mood. Both colors are common in nature. Green and neutral earth tones remind people of plans while blue is found in both the sky and the sea. As such, these colors can stimulate clear thought, calm the mind, and help with concentration.6
Plus, blue light can actually lower your blood pressure. Research found that blue light exposure significantly decreased blood pressure, which can temporarily spike due to stress.7
How To Use Calming Pictures and Colors
How often you use calming pictures and colors is up to you. Whether you choose to look at calming pictures and colors every day, or once a week, try to be consistent either way.
To relax, you should find somewhere quiet and comfortable that is free from interruption. Your relaxation space should also have a comfortable temperature that isn’t too hot or cold, which can make it hard to relax. Lastly, relax your body and muscles, especially any tense areas.8
Once you’re ready, spend a few minutes looking at calming pictures or colors. Try to focus on the image in front of you and how it makes you feel. Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is also helpful since it is another powerful tool for reducing stress.
A Quick Review
The next time you’re stressed, try looking at calming pictures. Certain images, shapes, and colors can have a calming effect on the mind, which can improve your mood and help you relax. Whether you’re new to using calming pictures and colors or a seasoned professional, consider keeping these sorts of images on hand for times of stress.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Meditation and mindfulness: what you need to know.
- Yamashita R, Chen C, Matsubara T, et al. The mood-improving effect of viewing images of nature and its neural substrate. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(10):5500. doi:10.3390/ijerph18105500
- Barton J, Rogerson M. The importance of greenspace for mental health. BJPsych Int. 2017;14(4):79-81. doi:10.1192/s2056474000002051
- White MP, Elliott LR, Grellier J, et al. Associations between green/blue spaces and mental health across 18 countries. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):8903. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-87675-0
- Robles KE, Roberts M, Viengkham C, et al. Aesthetics and psychological effects of fractal based design. Front Psychol. 2021;12:699962. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.699962
- Kurt S, Osueke KK. The effects of color on the moods of college students. SAGE Open. 2014;4(1):215824401452542. doi:10.1177/2158244014525423
- Stern M, Broja M, Sansone R, et al. Blue light exposure decreases systolic blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and improves endothelial function in humans. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2018;25(17):1875-1883. doi:10.1177/2047487318800072
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Relaxation techniques: what you need to know.