The laundry is piling high, you’re behind at work, you’re worried about your kid’s performance in school, your boss is a jerk, and you and your partner haven’t had a date in two months. Anxiety is kicking in! Perhaps it’s a steady stream of just constant worry or periodic freak outs. Whatever your relationship with anxiety (or depression for that matter) is, there is one simple thing that can help turn it down a bit and it’s right outside your window.
If you are feeling anxiety set in- move your body and preferably move it outside. There are a couple of reasons why being in nature helps our mental and emotional well-being. Perhaps the biggest reason is that our brains our evolutionary programmed to seek out lush landscapes as this indicates the presence of food and water. When we are in nature then, it literally activates the parts of our brain that activates the calming, parasympathetic nervous system. One Stanford study found that participants who walked in nature had decreased activity in the part of the brain responsible for repetitive thought on negative emotion and rumination than their counterparts who walked the same amount in urban settings. Participants who walked in nature reported increased mood, less depressive symptoms as well.
Perhaps you have experienced this before, you have gone on a hike or just taken a walk in a park and have come back feeling clearer headed, rejuvenated and restored. I find that even just going outside for a few deep breaths helps me hit the reset button and reminds me that I can handle it. I also feel more connected when I am in nature. My 7-year old son and I were on a hike and out of the blew he said “I just feel more love when I am hiking. I feel calmer.”
If your anxiety is so bad that you struggle with leaving your house, just looking at scenes of nature can help. One study found that patients with a view of trees out of their hospital window healed faster than those that had internal rooms facing a wall. The study found people who had access to nature scenes had lower levels of cortisol and increased mood. When we are looking at scenes of nature, it activates our mirror neurons and makes us feel calmer as well. Being in nature as opposed to urban landscapes allows us to have time to restore our mental processes and be more creative.
When we are in nature, we tend to feel like the little things that chip away at our resiliency begin to fade away. I often am reminded of just how sweating the little things is really preventing me from being fully present with what is important and when I am in nature, I don’t really even have to try to be present and grateful, it just naturally happens. I feel more in my body and have more awareness about how truly connected we all are. Many studies that have shown that people who spend more time in nature are more likely to engage in pro-social activities and report more levels of compassion and a desire to be kind.
Whether you struggle with chronic anxiety that feels debilitating or periodic bouts of feeling overly stressed, getting outside can be a great way to step back into a place of empowerment and being intentional about how you want to manage that stress. In a world that can be bombarded with fear and stimulation, getting outside can help our frontal lobes turn back on and decrease that feeling of flight or fight. It’s as simple as opening your door, putting away the screen and getting out there. Let’s go!