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How much time are you spending outdoors? Nature's guide to stress relief

Updated: Dec 4, 2023



Life can be stressful, and living with stress in all it's forms can be damaging to our mental and physical health. Finding ways to manage stress can often feel like a chore or difficult to fit into you routine, not to mention costly. We are finding increasing evidence that suggests getting outdoors and spending time amongst nature can be an excellent way of reducing stress levels.


So what real effects can stress have on us and what exactly can spending time outdoors do to help us?


What are the effects of stress on our bodies?

What does the research say?

Practical tips for getting outside more



What are the effects of stress on our bodies?


A little bit of stress is ok, it can even be beneficial to us in high pressure siutations or help us perform daily tasks. Too much stress, especially stress experienced over a prolonged period of time can cause mental and physical health problems.


Chronic stress has been linked to a varirety of health issues, such as:

  • Tension headaches

  • Low back pain

  • Increased risk of heart-related problems and cardiovasular disease

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Depression

  • Immune disorders



What does the research say?


Although the idea of getting some fresh air and spending time outside to help reduce stress is not a new idea, it's quite a new area to the world of research.


There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that spending time around nature can reduce physical and psychological stress levels when compared to spending time in urban or indoor environments. This includes lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing activity in the amygdala (the part of the brain that helps regulate emotions such as fear and anxiety), improving your mood and releasing endorphins.


In Japan and the USA, doctors have even started prescribing spending time in nature to people as part of treatment plans and as a way of promoting better health.



Practical tips for getting outside more


Start by asking yourself what can you do and what you like to do, whether it's sitting on a bench or running a marathon, choose something that feels realisitic and achievable for you.

This goal is flexible, it can change depending on your circumstances and can be made harder or easier depending on what you want to achieve. For example, I don't have time during the day to go for a walk in nautre, however I could sit on a bench and eat my lunch before returning to work.


Next, write it down. The likelihood of you doing something increases when you commit it to paper.

Come prepared! Be prepared for bad weather, bring a raincoat and trainers to make achieving your goal possible despite the rain and wind.


Go with a friend. Having somone to go outdoors with can help with motivation and accountability.


Take up an outdoor hobby. Finding something you love to do whilst being outside, this could be gardening, joining a running club, walks with friends and family or playing sports outside.


Spending time outdoors and amongst nature will look and feel different for everyone. It can an effective and free tool to help you look after your mental and physical health when you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed, you could even suggest it to friends or colleagues who are in need of some stress relief.


References:
  1. Levels of Nature and Stress Response https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981243/

  2. Psycho-Physiological Stress Recovery in Outdoor Nature-Based Interventions: A Systematic Review of the Past Eight Years of Research - https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/10/1711

  3. How nature nurtures: Amygdala activity decreases as the result of a one-hour walk in nature https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-022-01720-6

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