Fractal Patterns: Because Nature is Pretty Amazing

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Fractal Patterns: Because Nature is Pretty Amazing

In this installment of Wit and Wisdom for Well-Being, we bring you: fractal patterns and why they can help reduce stress!

To all you leaf peepers out there, do you ever wonder why your shoulders drop and perhaps a wave of relaxation comes over you when you are exposed to nature? Turns out, it’s not just you. Research has shown that exposure to nature, specifically fractal patterns, can reduce a person’s stress level by up to 60%.

As a recovering New Yorker, I used to believe that only a strong (and dirty) martini could really make an impact on my stress level at the end of the day. Since moving to Colorado, my increased time with nature has convinced me otherwise.


But first, let’s talk a little bit about stress itself. In short doses, stress is not inherently bad. When you experience a stressful event, your body releases hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) that increase your heartrate, focus your attention, and get your body ready to fend off a threat. In certain circumstances, this natural reaction can be helpful and maybe even lifesaving.

Unfortunately, in today’s society, many people are living with chronic stress, meaning that your body’s response to stress is always on and actually messing with many of our body’s processes. Typical physical responses to chronic stress include digestive problems, disruption in sleeping patterns, even heart disease, to name a few. Overall, clearly not great for our overall health and well-being.


The good news is that there are easy ways to reduce your stress and get your body and hormone levels back to normal, and it’s found in fractals. It only takes the human brain 50 milliseconds to detect the presence of fractals. Our body actually responds to fractal patterns before we even consciously know what we’re looking at.

You may be asking yourself now, what exactly is a fractal pattern? Don’t worry, no complex math required here. Essentially, fractal patterns are never-ending patterns where every part of the pattern, regardless of how close or far away you are to the image, is repeated. As Ben Weiss explains it “whenever you observe a series of patterns repeating over and over again, at different scales and where any small part resembles the whole, that is a fractal.”  Consider zooming in on the image of a leaf, you will likely see that it also resembles a river network as seen from above. That is a fractal.

So why does this type of pattern have such a positive impact on our overall health and well-being? There are countless pieces of research that have documented the relationship between nature and stress reduction. The most common theory behind this relationship is that the human eye and mind have evolved with nature itself and our visual processing system is set up to understand and recognize fractals. Even as you think about the human body, our systems (eyes, veins, nerves, etc.) are made up of fractal patterns. So the theory is that “stress-reduction is triggered by a physiologic resonance that occurs when the fractal structure of the eye matches that of the fractal image being viewed.”


Does this mean that all my NYC friends and colleagues need to move to Colorado to get this kind of benefit? While many cities and perhaps the intersection of Broadway and 14th street may be visually complicated and cause discomfort, you don’t have to travel all the way to the Rocky Mountains to gain access to fractal patterns and the stress reducing benefits of nature.

Being outside is ideal for many reasons, but thankfully, research has found that fractals found in images can be beneficial to stress reduction as well. This means that having a nature scene or fractal screensaver on your computer, a picture of a forest trail on your desk, or even a potted plant within your line of sight can help reduce your stress levels. Remember, it only takes a 20-minute dose of nature to significantly reduce cortisol levels. With that kind of ROI, it’s certainly worth making the time each day to support your health and well-being.


  1. Take time to be outside. A 20-minute walk in nature can not only decrease your stress hormones, but also reduces your blood pressure levels and heart rate.
  2. Change your perspective. If you have access to a window at home or in your workplace, try to orient your desk so you can have visual access to the outdoors (trees and grass if you can get it). If that’s not an option, photographs of nature throughout your space will have stress reducing benefits too.
  3. Get some plants. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, having plants nearby can help with reducing stress. And while the fake plants, if designed correctly, can help, real plants have the added benefit of helping with air quality.
  4. Embrace biophilic design. Fractals are a great start! The good news is biophilic design goes even further with research and ideas around integrating the benefits of the natural world into our built environments. Take time to learn more about the science behind biophilic design and how it’s incorporated into design standards and some of the foundational elements we use today. There is always an opportunity to make progress above and beyond the baseline standards. Learn how to embed these strategies in your workplace so your organization can reap the rewards as well.

As always, we’re here to help. If you have any questions, thoughts, ideas, or would like to learn more about how Stok and our subject matter experts can support your organization, please reach out.