Our brains haven’t changed much over time, but our lifestyles have. While our grandparents spent most of their day working in the garden and fields—observing, listening, touching—we tend to keep our ears plugged with earbuds and our eyes on screens. Read more to learn the Best-Kept Secret to Reducing Pain, Stress, and Anxiety.
It turns out that depression, anxiety, stress, our own problems, and fatigue can all benefit from a change of scenery—especially if that scenery involves trees, flowers, animals, birds, sky, and water. Even doing all the things we do for exercise and downtime can be improved by doing them in natural settings: mountain trails instead of city sidewalks, a park bench rather than a recliner, on the water, or even in a secluded yard as an alternative to being inside.
Are you wound tight?
Much of our living keeps us “all wound up”—uptight and close to breaking. Even the computerized games we play to relax create surges of adrenaline as we compete and face “danger.” It turns out that simply relaxing or exercising in a calm setting may do as much good as a massage or listening to soothing music.
Nature to the rescue!
Spending time in nature can improve mood, boost happiness and wellbeing, and relieve stress and anxiety. In fact, studies show that being in nature can diminish depression, calm nerves, lower brain activity associated with rumination and worry, rescue us from our incessant multitasking, distract us from our problems, stimulate creativity, make exercise more interesting, and decrease our pain. Nature may be the best-kept secret to managing pain, stress, and anxiety. Try these variations to work nature into your daily routine to calm your nervous system:
- Get out of the break room and walk in a park.
- Exchange the deli or cafeteria for lunch by a stream or lake
- Be more curious about the world you inhabit—ask why, learn to identify (birds, flowers, trees, constellations), study a new subject, get a pair of binoculars or a telescope
- Do your cardio workout in a scenic area instead of in the gym
- Instead of watching a TV show, create your own oasis on a patio or balcony with plants and a water fountain
- Explore hobbies in nature: birding, kayaking or paddleboarding, gardening, mountain biking, fly fishing, volunteer at a community garden
- Even watching a nature documentary can calm your mind; type “relaxing nature” into YouTube and find many options (here’s a starter). Or try this one, including three hours of relaxing nature scenery and soothing music to help calm your mind and reduce stress.
Getting outside in nature can improve mood, boost happiness and wellbeing
Benefits of spending time in nature
Studies show that time spent in nature benefits the brain and the body. It can lower brain activity linked to negative ruminations and worry, strengthen short-term memory by quieting the brain, improve creativity and problem-solving skills, reduce feelings of being disconnected, and improve interpersonal relationships. Just looking at clouds in a blue sky can take our mind off today’s problems. Nature is full of awe-inspiring scenes. Snow-covered peaks, ocean waves, animal moms protecting their young, a star-studded night sky, waterfalls, and brilliant wildflowers adjust our perspective—rather than thinking we’re the center of the universe, we can recognize ourselves as a small piece of it.
How nature reduces pain
In the 1970s, scientists, searching for a painkiller that did not have the addictive character or overdose risk of morphine, discovered that the brain has a built-in system for pain relief. They named these hormones released from the pituitary gland “endorphins” (from the words “endogenous,” which means “from the body,” and “morphine,” an opioid pain reliever).
Endorphin release is typically in response to pain and can inhibit the transmission of pain signals in the nervous system. While listening to music, vigorous aerobic exercise, meditation, and laughter can trigger endorphin release, any activity that creates euphoria may have the same effect. Maybe this is why spending time with our “awe” can also reduce our perception of pain.
Nature is Becky’s go-to pain reducer
I love nature and beautiful scenery. It’s soothing and inspiring, which reduces my sensitivity to the pain I live with. I also find that walking or hiking in scenic areas calms my mind and reduces my pain for several hours. So join me for a walk in the Utah hills.
Explore your world for scenic areas that inspire your awe and infuse your mind, body, and spirit with the healing calm of nature. It really is one of the best-kept secrets to managing pain, stress, and anxiety.
For more information on how being in nature affects you psychologically, read The Positive Effects of Nature On Your Mental Well-Being from PositivePsychology.com.
Want more tips from Becky? Read Becky’s #1 Pain and Anxiety Management Tool
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