Aside from the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life and the endless list of responsibilities that consume most of our day, many of us have been faced with heightened stress and anxiety this year.
We’ve experienced a global pandemic that is still impacting us daily, severe economic pressures, and are now approaching a presidential election that, for many, is a significant source of added stress.
Let’s be real; we have A LOT going on.
Unmanaged stress can trigger mood episodes, cause physical ailments, and have a negative impact on several aspects of your life. Now more than ever, it is important for you to make self-care a priority that stays high on your to-do list. One simple solution that can help reduce your stress and balance your mood is nature.
How Does It Work?
When people are under high levels of stress, the prefrontal cortex malfunctions; this is the part of the brain that controls our emotional responses to stress. When it is impaired, it can cause a continuous loop of negative thoughts, making you feel like you’re trapped in that emotional state. Nature’s calming sounds and visual aspects have a soothing effect on both the mind and body.
Whether it’s the mountain views, a beautiful hike, walking your dog, or visiting a nearby beach, getting out into nature can do more for you than you may think. Countless studies have proven that nature has many therapeutic benefits.
Nature has a way of bringing you into the present moment and allows you to take a break from stressful thoughts of the past and future. It can help align the mind, body, and spirit. Becoming more aware of the nuances of nature sounds such as the wind rustling through the leaves of trees, crickets chirping in the distance, or the running water of a nearby creek can improve your overall sense of well-being. If you’re lucky enough to be close to any body of water, simply being near it can make you feel a sense of calm and elevate your mood.
How Much Nature Do I Need?
Research shows that being in nature for as little as 20-minutes can reduce feelings of anger, fear, and stress. It can also increase the development of more pleasant feelings that improve your overall mood and make you feel more energized.
Try spending 30-minutes barefoot on the grass, sand, or dirt. Scientists have found that there is a source of free electrons conducted by the Earth that can neutralize the free radicals in your body, leaving you feeling more balanced and grounded.
Can Nature Do More Than Relieve Stress?
Ecotherapy is a type of formal treatment that involves doing activities outside in nature and has shown to help symptoms of mild to moderate depression. Due to its natural therapeutic benefits, Ecotherapy has also helped improve other mental health problems such as anxiety, OCD, and bipolar disorder.
Many clinicians believe that spending too much time indoors can lead to feelings of isolation and boredom, which can trigger a depression relapse for those who are more susceptible. Outdoor activities promote personal growth, establish a deeper connection to the world around us, and foster a greater sense of self-awareness.
What If I Can’t Get Outside?
Simply visualizing scenes of nature can bring a sense of calm and quiet. Nature therapy researchers conducted a study on patients recovering from heart surgeries, which were stuck in hospital beds for long periods of time. The patients who were shown images of nature were said to need less pain medication and reported lower levels of anxiety than patients who were not shown these images.
Can Nature Help Physical Ailments?
Exposure to nature can not only help you feel better emotionally; it contributes to your physical well-being. Spending time outside has shown to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of the stress hormone cortisol. It even supports a better night’s sleep.
A recent study that was conducted involved taking groups of people into the forest and measuring certain biomarkers. This allowed them to collect data that demonstrates how natural environments have a therapeutic effect on our immune system, respiratory system, and cardiovascular system. It also offers opportunities for natural physical activity, which has several physical and emotional benefits of its own.
There is undeniable tranquility about nature that naturally encourages relaxation. Every time you are in nature, you benefit, and regularly spending time outside profoundly impacts your physical, mental, emotional, and psychological health. Whether you live around natural surroundings, visit local parks, or head out into your own backyard, every connection with nature makes a positive difference.