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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kim Ross

8 Tips for Managing Stress in Nature


There are many studies showing that being out in nature is good for our health, both physically and mentally. Being outside can help to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, increase our ability to focus, increase energy levels, and improve sleep our sleep quality (1, 2).


Since 2007, the American Psychological Association (APA) has been conducting a survey called Stress in America (TM). In 2023, the most common sources of stress include finances (being able to pay for essentials, housing), the current political climate, discontent with the news/media,

concerns about the future of our nation and the

Image Credit: Kim Ross, Chittenango State Park debt of our nation, mass shootings, social divides, and health-related concerns (costs and conditions/diseases) (3). In comparing the results from 2019 to 2023, all age groups reported a dramatic increase in stress with the largest increases in ages 18-44 and the lowest in those over the age of 65 (3).


There are many signals that our body gives us that indicates we may be suffering from too much stress (4-6).

Emotional

Physical

Behavioral and Cognitive

Moodiness

Chest pain/racing heart

Overuse of drugs/alcohol

Worry

Generalized aches and pains

Overeating/Undereating

Irritability

Fatigue

Forgetfulness

Hostility/anger

Sleep Disturbances

Clumsiness

Overwhelmed

Muscle tension (especially the neck and jaw clenching)

Difficulty concentrating

Lassitude

Digestive symptoms (heartburn/indigestion/IBS/diarrhea/constipation)

Unhealthy coping skills such as gambling or excessive shopping

Defensiveness

Headaches

Poor eating choices

Sadness

Difficulty breathing

Lack of engagement in social or physical activity

Impatient

Sweating

Lack of sexual desire

Loss of sense of humor

Changes in menstrual cycle

Nail biting/picking, hair twirling, pacing, fidgety, foot tapping

While there are many ways you can manage stress, this blog focuses on doing so by spending time outdoors. Please know that I am not suggesting you can remove all stress from your life, rather the goal is to find ways to manage it.


Here are 8 relaxing ways to find peace in nature that will help to

rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul.







Images credit (untouched photos): Kim Ross, sunsets in Lakewood Ranch, FL and Madiera Beach, FL


Leave technology behind

To fully connect with nature and yourself--leave all technology behind. If this doesn't feel safe to you, at least put it on silent or do not disturb mode and make a vow to not scroll on your phone while you are in nature. The goal is to step away from the stresses of everyday life. (I promise it will all be there when you return--no need to bring it with you!)


Pause...

Simply slow down and take a pause to enjoy the sights around you to help mentally prepare for your day or to help with decompressing after a long day! That's right---do nothing more than observe the sites around you.

Forest Bathing

The Japanese have a term called “forest bathing” that can revitalize an exhausted mind. What do you need to do? Visit a forest and bath in (breath in) it's air. A review of the literature shows this simple act is profound, reducing cortisol levels to aid in stress management (7).

Listen to Nature's Music

Take time to listen to the sounds nature has to offer like flowing water, chirping of the birds, the whistling of the wind through the trees, and to each foot step you take over the terrain. Research has shown the power of music therapy for reducing stress (8), why not let nature be your music?

Strike a (Yoga) Pose

There are many stress-lowering benefits of yoga (9). Research shows that healthcare workers (who have a high reported stress burden) have significant improvements in the ability to cope with stress and it improved empathy (10). Why not take your yoga practice outside, listing to nature's music and forest bathing all at the same time?

A Time for Reflection

The natural light and environment we have around us can enhance our cognitive abilities (memory and problem solving). Sitting quietly in nature with a notebook can allow creative juices to begin flowing. This can be a good time to work on a project, homework, or journaling, without the distractions of every day life interfering. Consider making your bucket list. Where do you want to visit in your local area, your state, the US, another country? Who do you want to go with? What is something you wish always wanted to try?

Enjoy Time with Family and Friends

Remember when going on a picnic used to be a common past-time? A picnic is a great way to spend time with or reconnect with friends and family. Remember to leave the technology behind so you can engage in meaningful, funny, goofy, refreshing conversations! Consider playing a fun board or card game. Don't want to pack up the car? No worries, take your picnic to your own backyard!


Activity in Nature/Outside

You don't have to be in a secluded part of nature to receive its benefits. Consider engaging is hobbies you enjoy (or used to enjoy) such as golfing, boating, fishing, kite-flying, sitting on the beach, canoeing, kayaking, biking, hiking, etc. You can also get in your steps with Mindful Walking. All you need to do is tune into the sites and sounds around you as you walk. Listen for birds chirping, dogs barking, leaves under your feet, cars passing, etc. Feel the sun on your skin, the wind against your body, the temperature of the air. Watch for people and say hi to your neighbors. Simply be present in your walk.


Written by Kim Ross

November 14, 2023

References

1. Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. Dec.ny.gov. https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html. Published 2019. Accessed March 10, 2019.

2.Berto R. The role of nature in coping with psycho-physiological stress: a literature review on restorativeness. Behav Sci (Basel). 2014;4(4):394-409. Published 2014 Oct 21. doi:10.3390/bs4040394

3. Stress in America 2023: A nation grappling with psychological impacts of collective trauma. American Psychological Association. November 1, 2023. Accessed November 14, 2023. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2023/11/psychological-impacts-collective-trauma

4. Lipski, E. Digestion Connection. 1st ed, Rodale; 2013:42..

5. Satsangi AK, Brugnoli MP. Anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms in palliative care: from neuro-psychobiological response to stress, to symptoms' management with clinical hypnosis and meditative states. Ann Palliat Med. 2018;7(1):75-111. doi:10.21037/apm.2017.07.01

6. Amirkhan, J. H., Landa, I., & Huff, S. Seeking signs of stress overload: Symptoms and behaviors. International Journal of Stress Management, 2018: 25(3), 301–311. https://doi.org/10.1037/str0000066

7. Antonelli M, Barbieri G, Donelli D. Effects of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) on levels of cortisol as a stress biomarker: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Biometeorol. 2019;63(8):1117-1134. doi:10.1007/s00484-019-01717-x

8. de Witte M, Pinho ADS, Stams GJ, Moonen X, Bos AER, van Hooren S. Music therapy for stress reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Health Psychol Rev. 2022;16(1):134-159. doi:10.1080/17437199.2020.1846580

9.Pascoe MC, Thompson DR, Ski CF. Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2017;86:152-168. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.08.008

10.Cocchiara RA, Peruzzo M, Mannocci A, et al. The Use of Yoga to Manage Stress and Burnout in Healthcare Workers: A Systematic Review. J Clin Med. 2019;8(3):284. Published 2019 Feb 26. doi:10.3390/jcm8030284

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