Why getting out of your house can help you get out of your head

Spending time in nature acts as an antidote to stress and anxiety. On average we spend 10 hours sat indoors looking at a screen. Advances in technology have created increasingly sedentary lives. Our always-on, productivity-driven approach has created a lack of connection to nature, and by extension to ourselves.


The restorative powers of nature


To demonstrate the restorative powers of nature, we can look to studies of the impact of nature on pain. In particular, a study conducted in 1984 (which has been replicated many times since) looked at the recovery of hospital patients after surgery, comparing those with a view of trees against those with a view of a brick wall. You guessed it - those with a view of trees recovered significantly faster. Those patients needed significantly fewer painkillers and had fewer postoperative complications. 

In nature, our pain-relieving mechanism kicks in. It activates the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system. And triggers the release of serotonin (the happy hormone) via sunlight. Serotonin inhibits the transmission of pain impulses in the central nervous system, and so pain is alleviated. 


Stress overlooked can be dangerous to our health and immunity. Chronic stress can lead to inflammation, sleep disorders, circulatory diseases, gastrointestinal problems and digestive disorders. It can prompt eating disorders, obesity, and disrupts metabolism. Stress can provoke the onset of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, and increasingly more evidence suggests that the onset of cancer may also be associated with stress. 

It's often our instinct to try to remove stress from our lives, but it's not always in our control. 

Stress is about demands and resources. We get stressed when we perceive that the demands on us outweigh the resources and capacity to handle them. Crucially it's our perception of those things that cause stress. Nature helps us contextualise those demands and helps build our resources. 

Nature distances us from stress-triggering situations. Our brains switch from fight-or-flight mode to relax-and-recover mode. Our sensory perceptions in nature say "relax," rather than "run away."

A study by Japanese medical professors found that a walk in the forest significantly lowered levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Just one day in a natural environment reduced men's adrenaline levels by 30% and two days by 35%. And the results for women are even more significant. Stress hormone levels dropped by 50% on the first day, and by 75% on the second day. 


Anxiety is the anticipation of potential future concerns. Nature helps us with the acceptance of uncertainty. In nature, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many things we don't know, understand or have explanations for. The mystery everywhere in nature reminds us that it is normal and inevitable that there will be many things we don't understand. When we go outside filled with confusion, fear, and anxiety about what we don't know, we are surrounded by everything else that is living in its own anxious process - there's solace in that shared experience. 


Nature gives us a sense of perspective, which is key to relieving stress and anxiety. Being outside our attention is drawn to what's outside of us, so our internal concerns start to recede into the background. 

Being among things that have existed for such a long time and that look so expansive to use makes us feel smaller. We can take a broader view and consider ways of looking at things differently. Being able to see things from different perspectives helps us generate optimism and the stability we need to cope with stress and even thrive. 

Changing our perspectives like this is something we're actually really good at naturally. We just need the time and space to be able to do it. Getting outside gives us that break. From there we can start to change our thought patterns. Simply changing our environment can open our minds and inspire creativity, which turns into resources to help us cope with the demands of stress. 

Maybe you're not an outdoors person, or you may still need convincing. But what's especially interesting is that studies also show that we underestimate the benefits of nature and overestimate the discomfort we think we're going to feel in it. So people think they will enjoy walking in nature less than they actually do. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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