Stressed Out? Let Nature Help You Destress

Published by Annie Barrett: 
February 26, 2024

Most of us feel good when we get out in nature and we may think, yes, nature is good to have around. However, according to Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, “Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.” 

White’s research study of 20,000 people found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces were more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who didn't. 

When we think of nature, we can think of green spaces and blue spaces. Green spaces include parks, fields, gardens and woods. Blue spaces include streams, rivers, lakes and seas.Positive effects on mental health have also been found when people spend time in both green spaces and blue spaces.

Japanese researchers have studied “forest bathing,” the simple practice of spending time in the woods, walking or relaxing. They have found that forest bathing can boost your immune system, lower blood pressure and help with depression

And, according to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, just 20 minutes of connection with nature help significantly lower stress hormone levels.

With this research in mind, I offer you 3 simple ways to let nature help you destress:

1. Immerse yourself in wild nature once a month.

Most of us are fortunate enough to have access to wild nature within an hour or two of our homes. Plan a monthly trip to a national park, state park, nature preserve, or designated wilderness area. Immersing yourself in the ambience of mountains, prairies, deserts, forests, lakes, rivers, beaches, or coastal areas for several hours, a full day, or a weekend, can elicit in you the emotion of awe and the feeling of being part of something bigger. Experiences of awe, such as those we may experience in wild nature, stimulate our vagus nerve which is linked to our emotional well-being and can decrease stress responses and anxiety.

2. Immerse yourself in urban nature every week.

Scheduling a weekly walk or picnic to an urban green or blue space such as an urban walking trail or local park is an easy way to get a hit of nature every week. When you are in these green and blue spaces, take the time to mindfully engage your senses: feel the breeze on your skin, listen to the birds, look carefully at the plants and trees around you, and take in the scents of the flowers and trees. These weekly nature pick-me-ups can go far to destress our nervous systems and keep us feeling emotionally and physically well.

3. Create a home sanctuary for enjoying nature every day.

No matter where you live, you can bring nature into your home. Having plants around is an easy way to do this. Just being around plants can improve your mental health and wellbeing. If you already have trees and plants around your house, consciously take the time to mindfully enjoy them. Sit outside under a tree. You can also go a step further and grow plants in your yard, garden, patio, or balcony. Studies from around the world show that growing plants eases depression and anxiety. Bring flower bouquets into your home. Or consider a nature shelf, or display where you bring objects from nature like shells, pinecones, and rocks into your home. 

The bottom line is we humans are not separate from nature. We are part of nature and the more we can make the time to connect to nature, the healthier we can be.