7 WAYS WALKING IN NATURE CAN HELP REDUCE STRESS AND ANXIETY

We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.

– Mary Oliver

There’s no question that 2020 has been a year like no other in my living memory. Time seems to have lost meaning. We’ve all had to make huge adjustments to the way we live and how we navigate the world right now. The things that really matter are in sharper focus than ever before for me personally but alongside that there have been large, gushing waves of fear, stress and anxiety. It would be so easy to become engulfed, swept away and to drown in a sea of grief, despair and sheer terror with all that has passed and the unknown terrain that lies ahead of us as we enter the winter season.

We are a resilient breed however, us humans…we adapt, we overcome, we unite, we paint rainbows, we sing from balconies, we rise up, we cling to hope, we will not let the sadness and the losses crush us and cause us to give up…it is possible for the best parts of us to come to the forefront and shine when the going gets tough.

Without a doubt during the full-on lockdown months my garden became my sanctuary, a safe haven to escape the relentless news broadcasts and information overload. I’m sure you too found solace in nature, whether it was your backyard, local park or simply a blue and cloudy sky view from an apartment window does not matter – we sought comfort in the familiarity and yet ever-changing aspects of nature like never before. We were forced to slow down and take notice! I’ve heard stories of veg patches being created, home-school moved outdoors due to the mercifully wonderful weather we experienced, neighbours chatting over garden fences and so many tales of outdoor living being a lifeline at a time when we were scared and asked to stay at home to reduce the spread of Covid.

Now that we can get out and about once again with a little more freedom it is my hope that the lessons we have learned about the benefits of nature connection stay with us. That we continue to cultivate our gardens both literally and metaphorically. And, as we move towards a winter of uncertainty that we look after our well-being by creating space to spend time in nature. We have to support ourselves and our nearest and dearest in any way that we know how and for me and my own family, time spent the outdoors, whether it be in our garden, a forest, beach or mountain is always our go-to coping mechanism and remedy when the going gets tough.

7 WAYS WALKING IN NATURE CAN HELP REDUCE STRESS & ANXIETY:

1.Research shows that a 90-minute walk in nature lowers the activity in the part of the brain linked to negative rumination. So, if the weight of the worries of this year start to feel ‘too much’…and let’s face it, we’ve all felt the overwhelming sensations build up since March…by stepping outside and going for a wander we can gain perspective and help lift ourselves out of spiralling negative thought patterns.

2.Nature has this wonderful way of gently capturing our attention and lulling us into place of calm in contrast to the harshness of news and time-snatching social media feeds. During lockdown did you find yourself looking at the flowers, trees and insects in your outdoor space in an unhurried and inquisitive manner…I know I definitely did. A few moments spent marvelling at the intricacy of mother nature’s creations does us the world of good. Retaining a sense of curiosity even when the going is really tough is very self-supportive and in turn can lead to gentle sensations of serenity and peace.

3.If you’re finding it difficult to focus or have noticed your short-term memory isn’t what it once was you are 100% NOT ALONE! In recent times with the increased usage of mobile phones, the internet, social media and so on, as humans we do find it harder to stay focused for long periods of time and our short-term memory is also impacted by the time we spend using these devices. Walking in nature has been shown to dramatically restore mental abilities such as the capacity to stay focused and retain information.

4.If like me your dining room has taken on the multi-functional roles of classroom, office, family hub and so on during lockdown you may well find that a change of scenery is just what you need. A walk in nature is well-documented as a problem-solving method, so if you’re feeling ‘stuck’ and are able, get your walking boots on and go ‘walk it out’ – you might be surprised at the solutions your brain has been knitting together behind the scenes. A change of scene may also prove to be awe-inspiring and you could notice a burst of creative energy following a walk in nature which in turn is massively beneficial for mental well-being – win win!

5.At a time when we are all feeling a little bit lost and disconnected from each other and ourselves a walk in nature can help to remind us that we belong to the wider world. For all the stress and worry that life in modern times brings to the day and daily, the world remains a beautiful place – there are views to enjoy, quiet places to find comfort, trails to roam, forests to explore and so much more. If we feel alone, a walk in nature can increase our appreciation of the beautiful world around us and our unique place in it – we belong.

6.Sometimes when I go for a walk in nature I wander further than initially intended. I love pressing on in the mountains, enjoying a good physical test of my endurance! On return home, alongside the physical exhaustion run feelings of pride at the accomplishment – pushing ourselves a little out of our comfort zones can increase our resilience, we learn that we are capable of way more than we realize and this in turn boosts our self-esteem which leads to a more positive outlook! Keep going!

7.Getting outside for a good dander and dose of fresh air can help us shake off both mental, emotional and physical fatigue. 2020 has undoubtedly been an exhausting year in so many respects. On numerous occasions I have felt utterly drained and wanted simply to curl up and hibernate until this has all passed. When I feel that way, I make a nice cuppa, fling open the door and step outside regardless of the weather. Within minutes my shallow breathing deepens, my shoulders relax, I often close my eyes and tune-in to the sounds around me…the birds chirp, a dog barks in a neighbouring street, I hear the hum of a bumblebee, the purr of my cat as she circles around my ankles…I inhale and soon my mind clears and the feelings of weariness diminish as I ground myself. So simple yet so powerful.

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