When our moms told us to “go play outside” they were offering a now recognized form of therapy, not just getting us out of their hair. People suffering from high levels of stress are getting relief by spending time with Mother Nature.
A walk outdoors is more than just a great pick-me-up. It can be a calming and regenerative exercise improving your mood and easing anxiety, stress, and depression.
Many health care providers are giving their patients “nature prescriptions” to get outside for help treating a wide array of medical conditions, from post-cancer fatigue to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
If you are struggling with stress or managing a medical condition, some time spent enjoying nature can help.
1. Garden or plant something.
Whether you are industrious enough to create a flower border along your entire driveway or only motivated enough to plant a single bush outside your front door, spending time outside and putting your hands in the earth can help you relax and reconnect with nature. Digging and watering are good exercise and the sense of accomplishment you get watching something you planted begin to grow is rewarding. You’ll also contribute to clean air and natural beautification of the planet.
2. Walk or cuddle with an animal.
Petting an animal for just a few minutes can reduce stress and release endorphins and oxytocin. Dogs have been bred for decades to respond warmly to human emotion, so petting and walking them is mutually beneficial. Walking is stress-relieving, too.
You can also visit a state park or national forest and go bird watching, hike the deer trails, and watch the local wildlife (from a safe distance).
3. Let nature inspire your creative side.
Grab a piece of paper and draw or write while sitting outside. You don’t have to be a professional artist to benefit from the calming effects of creating something inspired by nature. Work with whatever comes to your mind. It doesn’t need to be shared with anyone, so feel free to express yourself openly and honestly. The subconscious mind might even intervene and creatively show you a solution to your stress on your piece of paper. If you normally operate in a predominately linear, logical space this creative exercise not only gets you outdoors but engages the creative side of your brain.
4. Take a stroll in your bare feet.
Notice how the grass tickles your toes as you reconnect with the Earth’s electromagnetic energy field. Hear last year’s fallen leaves crunch under your feet. Feel the grains of sand while walking along the shore of an ocean or lake. Whatever you do, get off the carpet and concrete and let the Earth’s relaxing energy soak in through your soles and relax your mind and body. Equally calming and empowering is sitting on the grass or leaning against a sturdy tree trunk. Let your body connect with nature figuratively and literally.
5. Take a break and swing.
If your outdoor de-stress time takes you to a park, by all means, sit down on a swing. Start swinging. Enjoy the relaxing to and fro movements. Feel the air caressing your skin. If a swingset isn’t handy, sit in a rocking chair. This provides the same soothing movements.
6. Try nature photography.
Get off of Facebook and create some of your own social feeds by going outside and taking some pictures. Photography helps you gain a different perspective on the world around you, and that can keep your stress in check. Seek out picture opportunities that feature the good in the world and celebrate it. Seasonal and geographic differences can make this a truly unique experience every time you do it.
If you find some real photographic gems upload them to your computer for a screensaver or wallpaper that will transport you back to your tranquil time outside whenever you need it.
7. Try yoga.
There are many simple yoga poses like child pose, crocodile pose, and cat-cow pose that are immensely relaxing for the mind and the body. Select one and hold it for 2 or 3 minutes outside. Focus on your breathing and Mother Nature at work and at play all around you. As your muscles stretch and your mind quiets you will find a place of inner peace that practically washes the stress away.
8. Add a new dimension to an old practice.
Take your Eastern philosophy outdoors experience to another level by practicing Tai Chi or Shaking Qigong. Tai Chi has many forms and can be as simple or as complex as you choose to develop your personal practice. Shaking Qigong is the practice of standing with your body relaxed and gently shaking all your limbs to relieve trapped energy and anxiety. A simple scan of YouTube will provide you with plenty of instructional videos to get started. You might discover a new hobby!
9. Blow soap bubbles.
Embrace your inner child and blow some soap bubbles. Not only is it fun, but because it requires you to breathe more deeply it compels your body to relax. Try to blow the biggest bubble possible and then see how long it can stay afloat. Want bubbles with real staying power? Mix up your own bubble solution with water and liquid dishwashing detergent.
Don’t worry about looking silly. If bystanders are watching, they are probably jealous because you’re having fun and relaxing!
10. Ride a bike or fly a kite.
Any activity outside is the perfect way to experience eco-therapy and it can be low cost or even free. Many cities now have bike share programs where you can rent a bike for a short period of time if you don’t have one. Inexpensive kites can be purchased at your local dollar store seasonally. Kite flying and bike riding both create an inner and outer awareness of the movement of air. When the air around you is moving you tend to breathe more deeply creating relaxation physically and mentally.
11. Let water wash your troubles away.
There are many reasons why immersing yourself in water is a great way to reduce stress. Salty oceans are great but a lake, stream or pond work, too. Take off your shoes and stick your feet in the water. Slowly move towards total or near-total submersion and watch the water carry your troubles away.
If you are able, try renting a kayak or canoe from a local park and go for a leisurely paddle. Feeling more adventurous? Tubing or rafting down rushing mountain rivers can be exhilarating. If you think about it, every time you get wet and then emerge from the water you are starting fresh and new with no stress.
12. Watch the sunrise or sunset.
The morning sun will awaken you and fill you with positive energy to start your day. The healthy dose of Vitamin D relaxes the blood vessels and enhances circulation. While the evening sun with its fiery brilliance sets the mood for relaxation and contemplation and helps get you into the spirit of peaceful sleep.
While watching the sunset, take your relaxation a step farther by lighting a safe campfire or bonfire and mentally sending your stresses, worries, and concerns up into the night sky with the fire’s smoke. Let go of the things that worry you for a short time and relax. Breathe in the cooling night air and listen to the night creatures as they awaken and begin their nocturnal lives.
Who is AbleTo?
AbleTo helps people overcome the stress, anxiety, and feeling of overwhelm that can prevent quality sleep and can lead to depression or other mental health issues. We deliver programs based on your unique circumstances and needs. We make it easy and convenient. All therapy and coaching sessions are available from the comfort, privacy and convenience of your own home at the time, day or night, that works best for your schedule. Through phone or video chat, we connect you with our Care Team so that you can get the support to help you feel better.