Social media has in recent years been heralded as the source of poor mental health among users with platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube giving rise to feelings of self-comparison and deprecation, trolling and rather ironically; feelings of isolation (Lavis & Winter, 2020). However, with the growing awareness of how social media platforms can give rise to a negative head space, there are now more and more users and creators who are determined to buck this status quo and provide a more positive and community centred online space. At the forefront of this movement, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, are YouTube channels whose focus is on bringing slices of the outdoors to viewers in all corners of the globe. This essay shall feature an example of one such channel, with the premise that YouTube has facilitated a renewed sense of connection to nature and community, as well as better mental health through the video medium and platform affordances such as commenting, community tabs and sharing.
YouTube has unique affordances as a social media platform to enable users and creators to create strong communities and connections through shared experiences and interests. According to YouTube, it has over two billion logged in users and over one billion hours of content are watched each day in over 100 countries in 80 different languages (YouTube, 2021). The success of YouTube is obvious from these statistics, but the significance of this data lies in the undeniable reach and impact its content has upon users and how such power is harnessed. YouTube channels, put simply, are web pages given to a person when they sign up to create an account. Any account allows for both the upload of video content as well as the ability to like, comment or share other videos on the platform (Zanatta, 2017). These affordances are common denominators amongst much of our present social media platforms, so what makes YouTube different when it comes to a sense of community amongst viewers and creators?
A key aspect is the sheer visual appeal of the video medium, coupled with the more recent forays into ‘vlogs’ and subsequent conversations between creator and viewer. Filming and editing videos is an art form previously thought beyond the untrained individual (Zanatta, 2017). Technological advancement and accessibility have allowed for ordinary and relatable human beings to create and portray the world around them in an easy and tangible way, and YouTube allows for these experiences to be shared and connected with (Bekalu et al., 2019). Connection and sharing are important human emotions which foster a sense of community in the offline world, it can be said that YouTube allows for the mimicry of this real-world community, but that does not make it any less impactful to those involved in it. Zannatta sums it up well when she says, ‘the connection content creators have with the camera makes the audience feel like they are talking to a friend’ (Zanatta, 2017, p.18). The commenting facility then allows viewers to talk to the creator in conversation and others who feel the same way. The possibility of sharing the content is also present, which allows for the growth of the community and a sense of social like mindedness amongst users. Another affordance important in the idea of community is the function of subscribing to a channel. In this way a viewer is able to continually be aware of ongoing content and conversation, but is also able to support the creator in their endeavours. Supporting one another is a community function and this emotional tie to the channel only strengthens members connection to it.
As much of the world becomes more isolated from nature in cities and apartments, civic engagement has also started to decline (Horrigan, 2001). American social scientists have revealed that indicators such as membership in organizations whose popularity has previously been an indicator of strong community involvement, for example the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), has been falling over the past several decades (Horrigan, 2001). Although there is agreement that physical community is crucial to mental wellbeing as evidenced by research carried out by the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA) which reiterates that ‘community participation and mental wellbeing are positively and reciprocally related’ (Saeri et al., 2018, p. 367). There is however hope in the power of virtual community for if we take Saeri and his teams research definition of positive social connection as being: ‘people in my life accept and value me. I know that people around me share my attitudes and beliefs’ (Saeri et al., 2018, p. 368) then the physical nature of community and connection becomes less of a necessity and more of a by-product. As Horrigan and Wright agree, the Internet presents a unique opportunity to act as a third space in which ‘community networks could bind increasingly fragmented communities together’ (Horrigan, 2001, p. 10) and it is argued that to ‘privilege place over issue-based (and related) forums and communities is short-sighted’ (Wright, 2012, p.11) because much of what constitutes community is not geographic proximity (Anderson, 1991) but shared ideas, values and experiences.
YouTube nature channels have the ability to act as a third space which in turn are able to facilitate connection and community missing in offline urban spaces. Social isolation and loneliness are mental health issues that have steadily increased in recent years (Menec et al.,2019) and social bonds are ultimately weakening (Lorente-Riverola, 2019) much to the detriment of individuals. A third space is described as being ‘a generic designation for a great variety of public spaces that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals’ by Ray Oldenburg (Oldenburg as quoted in Wright, 2019, p. 8). Although he was intimating a physical space I am inclined to agree with Wright who argues that ‘Perhaps cyberspace is one of the informal public places where people can rebuild the aspects of community that were lost when the malt shop became a mall’ (Wright, 2012, p.9). The third space is not exclusive to the internet, nor is it exclusive to YouTube or to nature channels, but where I think the power and convergence of these concepts come together is in the idea that people are able to meet together in a shared location to experience and discuss a commonality that is irrefutably true and inherently meaningful to all. As Clay-Smith puts forward ‘We all share this world and are invested in its survival’ (Clay-Smith, 2018, para. 7) and YouTube channels which explore and celebrate this fact can bring people together with a sense of community and shared understanding. Nature has the power to grant perspective and calm and people who meet together to watch and comment are able to connect with others in the same state of mind and express and share thoughts and feelings to the benefit of all involved.
The main YouTube nature channel I will be analysing which evidences the positive construction of a third space to connect people with nature and each other, is Jonna Jinton. Not only has she utilised platform affordances to share awe inspiring videos of natural beauty, but her channel has also facilitated a supportive community space with subscribers and viewers taking to the comments professing to ‘feel better’ after watching her videos. As of the time of writing, Jinton has 3.09 million subscribers and her most watched video, ‘The Nordic Morning Routine- Ice Bath’, has over 36 million views (Jinton, 2021). Jinton is a Swedish Youtuber, jewellery maker and artist who lives in an isolated village in the far North of Sweden with her husband and pets. Her videos largely feature stunning videography of the natural world including mountains, lakes and the northern lights but Jinton also includes snippets of her daily life and struggles, and much of her content is in the vlog format. She is prolific in her replies to comments and often takes the time in her videos to thank her viewers and answer their questions. Jinton’s channel acts as a metaphorical extended hand which connects people with the outdoors and each other using YouTube. She offers her viewers new experiences and knowledge of the wild world that many would otherwise never experience. She even publishes meditative videos featuring the sounds of cracking ice which a large portion of her subscribers purport to be calming and soothing, unsurprising given that studies have found that even the sounds of nature may be restorative. According to Berman and his fellow researchers study participants who listened to nature sounds before and after high pressure cognitive tests performed better than those who listened to urban soundscapes (Van Hedger et al., 2019). Her utilisation of YouTubes platform affordances enable viewers to create a supportive community bonded by their shared appreciation of the natural world and how it positively affects them, no matter where in the world they may be. Bekalu reinforces this idea when he contemplates that social media can provide people with a platform that ‘overcomes barriers of distance and time to connect and reconnect with others, thereby strengthening and expanding their offline netwroks and interaction’ (Bekalu et al., 2019, p.69) which is an interesting idea that seeks to solidify the concept that even though the experience of nature and community is online and effectively virtual, it has the power to have positive offline real world effects.
A viewer writes regarding Jintons channel ‘It gives hope and reminds me that life is beautiful ‘(Denecker, 2020) whilst another intones ‘I miss the crab apples trees, pear, cherry trees, I miss the cloud berries, I miss the joyful people. I miss the rhubarb. I miss the strawberries… I miss the tulips, the great smelling flowers, I miss the waterfalls by the old house. I miss the Salmon that run in August. I miss the frozen lake. But with your channel, I can see most of it again’ (Dodge, 2021). Both comments emphasise how Jintons videos have made them feel more positive, and more appreciative of the beauty in the natural world. I think there is a correlation between the two (nature and mental wellbeing) that can exist even without physicality or proximity. This idea has been explored in a study into nature experiences through digital technology by psychologists from the Universities of Exeter and Surrey who found that simply watching nature on TV can help effect a more positive mood, combat boredom and increase feelings of connection to nature (Yeo, N et al., 2020). This is an important revelation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic which has reminded people the undeniable necessity of community and nature in daily life, but has also brought to light issues of accessibility (Kingsland, 2020). Given time lockdowns may thankfully be left in the murky past, but the fact remains that city life is here to stay, and so too are disease, disability and old age which affect a large portion of our global population, making it impossible for them to explore and reap the benefits of nature and wider community. Digital platforms such as YouTube may offer a way to improve the problems of modern isolation from physical community and nature through the video medium and socially focused platform affordances.
In conclusion it is clear that both nature and a sense of community are important contributors to mental well-being. The argument of this paper is not to say that digital technology can replace the real-world experiences of human connection and the physical sensation of being in the natural world. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic has proven over the last year, our ability to seek out the people we feel valued by, and equally our ability to find spaces of natural beauty can easily be taken away. Not only because of pandemic related issues but also because of uncontrollable health circumstances such as disease or disability, or more commonly due to the built-up nature of our towns, cities and high-rise apartment buildings or even our aging population. Looking to the future and as climate related problems continue to worsen, there may come a time when the wild parts of our planet are no longer accessible and it may be that digital mediums will become more relied upon for this important aspect of well-being. Hence why I think it is important that social media as a force for positivity is not dismissed. It is of course how we use this technology that determines whether the outcome is positive or negative. I think YouTube channels, such as Jonna Jinton and so many others, are useful as an example of how social media can both connect people and also create mental wellbeing among viewers through the content they choose to create, and also how they manage affordances such as the comment function to facilitate a sense of community.
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Bekalu, M. A., McCloud, R. F., & Viswanath, K. (2019). Association of Social Media Use with Social Well-Being, Positive Mental Health, and Self-Rated Health: Disentangling Routine Use from Emotional Connection to Use. Health Education & Behaviour, 46(2), 69-80. https://doi.org/10.1177/1090198119863768
Clay-Smith, S. (2018). Nature Documentaries and Your Mental Health. The Starfish. https://thestarfish.ca/journal/2018/5/nature-documentaries-and-your-mental-health
Denecker. (2020). Re: Midsummer magic & some struggles- ep. 43 [Video File]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23VO8E8xRqs&ab_channel=JonnaJinton
Dodge, J. (2021). Re: The Life of An Artist in the Nordic Wilderness- ep.46 [Video File]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OlhRSdcsVo&ab_channel=JonnaJinton
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Jinton, J. [Jonna Jinton]. (n.d). Home [YouTube channel]. Retrieved March 15, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/user/JonnaJinton/featured
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Saeri, A., Cruwys, T., Barlow, F., Stronge, S., Sibley, C. (2018). Social connectedness improves public mental health: Investigating bidirectional relationships in the New Zealand attitudes and values survey. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 52(4),365–374. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0004867417723990
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16 thoughts on “Finding Mental Well-being and Community Through Nature YouTube Channels”
Thanks for a terrific paper. I had not heard of Jonna Jinton before and have just spent about half an hour looking through her videos. I think I would very much like to have a spending spree on her website too… I do like her meditation ones and will be trying one out later.
Nature has always been a solace for me and it was even more important during 2020 as I was separated from my husband for a lot of it due to border closures. It always made me calm and gave me a sense of peace in a world that was fill with more unknowns than usual. I have never really been one to watch it online though apart from say a David Attenborough documentary.
Your comments ‘…her channel has also facilitated a supportive community space with subscribers and viewers taking to the comments professing to ‘feel better’ after watching her videos.’ is so wonderful and highlights what Delanty (2018) talked about in that ‘that virtual community empowers people.’
Her content is so mesmerising. I’m glad she is able to make a living pursuing her creative passions, although the demonstration of doing the washing in the snow is not so enticing.
Thanks again for a great paper.
Delanty, G. (2018). Community: 3rd edition. Community: 3rd Edition. Taylor and Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315158259
Thanks for your kind comments Michelle. Funny that you found my paper just as I came across yours! I am glad you enjoyed exploring Jonna Jinton, she has such a calming presence and I find I turn to her channel when I need a little perspective.
I absolutely relate to your need to find nature when things are feeling a little unknown and although not the same as actually going for a walk, I do think the digital medium can be helpful to those unable to do so.
The idea of community on these paltforms is relatively new but an interesting one to explore especialy in relation to the Delanty quote. I hope digital nature videos and the platforms that facilitae them continue to empower and inspire people to look after themselves and the world around them!
Thank you for taking the time to comment:)
Thank you for your well thought out and interesting discussion.
I am intertested in the idea of COVID’s impact on YouTube and community. I personally, as well as many friends stuck in much worse off countries, found myself connecting to YouTube in a much different way during lockdowns. I’d never been a big fan of channels and following a specific YouTuber, but I have now got a number of sport and gaming Youtubers I watch almost daily. I think it was partly to do with the non-verbal communication allowances the video platform makes. I liked the Zanatta (2017, p.18) reference as it hit home to me the personal connection through the camera I feel to these people I now follow closely. I would now say the YouTube community is up there with certain Reddit communities as the one I feel closest to.
While obviously my experiences are not regarding nature, I definitely found YouTube assisting my well-being throughout COVID as it gave me a sense of socialisation through this platforms community. Do you agree that YouTube’s ability to highlight non-verbal communication tools through its video platform assists in a stronger sense of community comparetively to other text-based social media platforms?
Thanks for the read.
Thank you for your insights! COVID has really been an interesting time to contemplate how and why we use specific platforms and the type of information/content that we seek. Often social media can be seen through a negative lense but I like how your expereince highlights how (when used mindfully) it can be beneficial towards feeling connected to others through platfrom communities. You pose an interesting question and I would say that because YouTube is such an audiovisual platform we often connect to its content faster and on a more emotional level. With more text based social media platfroms we often have to rely on our imagination and the skill of written communcation to convey personality and shared values. With video however it can often feel instantaneous. Voice, facial expression and mannerisms are such an integral aspect of everyday communication that it stands to reason that the abilty to actually see another person instead of merely reading their words helps establish a connection more easily. However, I would say this connection is limited to the creator and individual watcher. The community aspect however tends to exist soley in the comment section which is essentially text based so I would have to conclude that community and indeed ‘strong’ community can exist just as well on other text based social media platforms. Community is after all, connection to others through shared ideas and values and I think that can exist wherever, whenever as long as there are people with the ability to communicate themselves in whatever fashion available to them.
Thank you for such a thought provoking question!
very well done as it helps to educate people more on the subject and also to know how to prevent and stop the Asian hate!!!😁👍
Thanks Keisha. Always good to educate ourselves:)
It’s great to see so many people taking an interest in Jessica’s paper.
I agree that to reap long-term mental health benefits it would take more than a 5 minute clip here and there. But on the other hand, speaking from experience many people with mental health issues can struggle to sit and be calmed for any longer than a couple of minutes when first connecting with a new ‘tool’. Therefore, Jonna’s videos may prompt the start of a new method of relaxation for those struggling with mental health. For instance, they may venture into the outdoors to meditate once able to do so.
I also agree that viewing clips of outdoor adventures when being confined to your home during the pandemic may have also had negative effects on those that were used to spending time in the outdoors. However, evidence suggests that once lockdown was over, people have been spending more time in the outdoors now than ever before. Without doubt this would be a result of being restricted to where and when people could venture outside. Video’s such as Jonna’s may have provided people with a little glimpse of the beauty of nature and sparked an interest in the outdoors.
To me there is nothing more healing than spending time in the outdoors. Watching a YouTube clip or listening to nature sounds does not have the same effect on me.
Hi Jessica – I found your paper fascinating and yes, I fell down a Jonna Jinton rabbit hole. I agree with your statement, “YouTube channels, such as Jonna Jinton and so many others, are useful as an example of how social media can both connect people and also create mental wellbeing among viewers through the content they choose to create, and also how they manage affordances such as the comment function to facilitate a sense of community.” When I study/write I listen to nature sounds. Blizzards, crackling fires, rainstorms and Australian bush sounds are some of my favourites and I think this is because living here in New York City detaches me from my connection to the natural world. The well-being and relaxation I feel from listening to it is priceless. I also appreciate the connection to a community that also enjoys these sounds and videos as the recommendations and conversations I have with like-minded people is invaluable. Thanks for the new recommendation!
Thank you for being so active in the comments! I am glad I sent you down a Jonna Jinton rabbit hole haha! She sure is an inspiring lady and from your personal expereince you sound like a wonderful example of how such content might be beneficial! It really warms my heart to know that what I wrote and thought really does have a basis outside of the research. Thank you for sharing
Your paper was thoroughly enjoyable to read. I had not heard of Jonna Jinton previously, but after a quick search on YouTube, I agree with your sentiment that she has utilised the platform to share inspiring videos, which are vastly different to the ‘everyday’ vlogs shared by many Australian influencers.
I agree that incorporating beautiful, natural surroundings into her videos enables people to get a glimpse into both her life and a part of the world, whether they are familiar with that region or not. I loved your sentiment, “what constitutes community is not geographic proximity (Anderson, 1991) but shared ideas, values and experiences.” This is very pertinent to the virtual communities existing today, and so articulately put!
I hope to see more examples of how social media highlighting nature content can assist in cultivating mental wellbeing amongst its community.
Thank you for sharing your amazing insights!
Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you enjoyed the paper and sought out Jonna Jinton. I agree that her content is quite unique and her platform is a wonderful creative resource! I too hope that we can continue to learn and expereince how social media might be utilised in a postive sense wihin both online and offline communities.
I agree Tina. However, I do wonder about the time required to watch nature videos for them to have a positive impact on one’s mental health. I would hazard a guess that ‘the longer the better’ as it would then take on a meditative process. Nowadays, if the video is longer than 1-3 minutes in length, we switch off and move on (particularly youth), which suggests then that the people that watch nature videos decidedly seek out such media for the very purpose of finding community, belonging and positive affirmation.
I also wonder whether nature videos on YouTube may have a negative affect on mental health, especially in the context on COVID-19 lockdown. Could they spark feelings of sadness in thoughts of lost freedoms (restricted travel/movement etc)? I got this impression from the Dodge (2021) comment made above.
An interesting read Jessica. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Hi Vanessa – I think that you make a good point that if someone is actively seeking to find an outlet to boost their mood, and/or increase their mental health then they perhaps would be more willing to dedicate the time to watch a longer video before switching it off. Like all therapies for mental health, unfortunately, there isn’t a one size fits all approach and I do believe that you are right that it could spark feelings of lost freedoms for some but for others, it can provide a place of incredible solace. I know that videos like this have provided me with a great source of comfort while being locked in our apartment for 14 months and being able to live vicariously through a video has only increased my desire to get out in nature once we can.
Hi Vanessa and Katherine,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate the insight you bring to the discussion. Like with all things mental health, there are tools that may help one person while for the another they could be more hinderence than help. The COVID situation has undoubtably brought to light many realisations regarding ‘access’as it were. If we cannot physically get out to incorporate ways to boost our mental health such as nature, exercise in a gym, coffee with friends etc then what might we do for ourselves that while not the same, could also be beneficial? Zoom dinner parties with friends or dress up Fridays became popular as a way to recreate a sense of normality, feelings of excitement, looking forward to something or connection with others. These digital manifestations cannot ever replace the real life expereince but as an alternative I. think they can be helpful. That is how I feel about Youtube and nature content. A video of someone walking through the mountains is not the same as if you were walking through the mountains yourself. However, the sounds and visuals can still have a positive effect and anything which makes you feel better and more connected to others and the world you feel currently isolated from is surely a good thing.
Your paper drew my attention as it is close to my heart. I deliver outdoor education activities to young people who are considered to be at risk of disengaging from the education system. Working in the outdoors I see first-hand the endless mental health benefits nature has to offer. Indeed it has been challenging for my industry along with many others during the Covid-19 pandemic to continue supporting the community in the traditional sense. Unfortunately, I was unable to convince the department of education that sitting and watching YouTube clips of nature and recreational activities during class would be just as beneficial to the student’s mental health as spending time in the real environment. Consequently, there is evidence to suggest (in my local area) that the mental well-being of young people has declined, and I have no doubt that it is due to a lack of connection with the natural environment.
Indeed, the work that Jonna Jinton is doing is amazing and will most definitely connect with and benefit older adults 18+. However, I feel it would be more challenging to engage youth with these YouTube clips in order to benefit their mental health. Their desire to fit in with the crowd is more likely to help them select what they watch/follow.
Does anyone else have any thoughts?
Thank you for taking the time to read through my paper and I am glad it resonated so strongly with you! What fascinating work you do and I agree with your assertion that nature has so much to offer in terms of mental health. There are screeds of research to support this but if I am honest, not that much has been done in terms of a digital medium. Probably why you were unable to convince the department of education that children might benefit from it! My hope is that as technology evolves and access to the natural world (for various reasons) unfortunately declines, there might be more interest in conducting research into this field. I read a very interesting paper on how immersive virtual reality might be used to bring nature to people who otherwise might not be able to access it.
I wonder if younger people/ people with short attention spans might find this useful as I think the expereince of watching vs immersion would be wholly different and more engaging? Of course we are a long way off this sort of technology being accessible to everyone but an interesting thought to consider for the future none the less.