Are you one of more than 40 million Americans who suffer from stress, depression, or anxiety? If so, spending time outside may do your mind (and body) some good.
Spending time in nature can provide natural stress relief. It’s also been proven to improve your mood, boost feelings of happiness, and help your overall well-being. There are many different ways to enjoy God’s Creation.
Consider King David’s reflection upon God’s Creation…
"All the earth shall worship You
And sing praises to You;
They shall sing praises to Your name.”—Psalm 66:4
"Mountains and all hills;
Fruitful trees and all cedars;
Beasts and all cattle;
Creeping things and flying fowl;
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For His name alone is exalted;"—Psalm 148:9-10, 13
...But when it comes down to it, they are all the same. The underlying element to all of these therapies is being outside in nature.
Humans were designed to thrive in the great outdoors. Your body benefits both physically and emotionally from immersing yourself in Creation.
In fact, in 2010, a group of researchers from the University of Rochester conducted a study about the reaction people have to nature. They had students take two 15-minute walks—one in an empty hallway and another down a wooded path in nature.
Can you guess which students reported feeling less sluggish?
That’s right—the participants who strolled down nature’s path.
Our world is loud and full of distractions. This makes it easy to get lost in the shuffle of achievement and materialism that plagues this earth. Nature allows us the time and space that is needed to block out the noise and be intentional about prioritizing our life.
However, keep this in mind…
Nature is a tool that God has given us as a way to see His mighty works. It’s also a good reminder of how much God cares for us and His desire for us not to worry.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”—Matthew 6:25, 26-27
Natural Stress Relief
Although stress is a part of everyday life, it doesn’t need to take over. By taking a little bit of time out of each day to focus on your mental health, you can reduce your chances of becoming ill from chronic stress. It is not coincidental that the Bible tells us to take an entire day for rest. Our bodies actually need downtime.
Physical Benefits of Stress Relief
1. Time out reduces stress.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports in a CDC publication that stress levels at work are higher than ever. Reports show that "health care costs are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress." Stress wreaks havoc on our physical and emotional health.
2. Time out gives you a chance to move.
Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with many health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. On the contrary, exercise is hands down the best thing we can do for our physical and mental health.
Emotional Benefits of Stress Relief
1. You're actually more productive when you take time out from work.
Data from the OECD shows that working more hours means less productivity. The most productive countries are Germany and France—each mandating more than 30 days of vacation. Downtime is actually proven to be beneficial in creativity and production.
2. Rest days improve short-term memory.
Memory loss can be attributed to much more than old age. It could be that your brain is overloaded with to-dos. Taking a moment of quiet rest in an open space can lead to more organized thoughts and better memory retention.
Let’s be honest—we all feel better when we are relaxed. The key to relaxation is being able to actually tune out what needs to be done and allowing yourself space to just breathe. When you care for your physical, mental, and emotional health, you are more likely to be successful in your professional and personal pursuits.
It has been proven time and time again that spending time in nature can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and improve overall well-being. There is a lot of research to back this claim. Scientists have discovered that the terpenes found in nature play a key role in the therapeutic properties of a walk through the forest.
Another 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that participants who walked in a forest had lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol (aka the stress hormone) afterward than those who strolled through a city environment.
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center studied the cognitive effects of air pollution (the word cognitive refers to brain processes such as thinking, reasoning, and remembering). They found that exposure to air pollution over time can result in higher rates of mental decline. This was especially true among older women.
Spend Time in Nature
The good news is that you don’t need to move to the mountains to benefit from a daily dose of nature. Many studies examine the natural stress relief effects of nature after a mere 15- or 30-minute exposure. The positive effects, even after a short time, can still be seen.
If you live in a city, try not to get all of your exercise inside of a gym. Look for a local park where you can go on a walk or jog, take a bike ride, or find a body of water and dive in... if you know how to swim.
Although exercise has a positive effect on stress, you don’t have to be working up a sweat to enjoy the therapeutic effects of nature.
Take some time to really appreciate the Creation all around you. Breathe in the fresh air, admire the beautiful flowers, and listen to the birds sing. Try to let all of your worries drift away as you simply watch and listen.
Be Still and Listen
“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”’—Psalm 46:10
Busyness and stress, like so many things in life, do not come with one easy solution. However, within Creation, we can see and hear the many promises from God come to life. Nature can help restore the voice of the Lord in our soul. With practice, His voice can become louder than all the struggles we are battling, and we can rediscover what it means to “be still.”
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