Nature – the Antidote to Stress

We’ve all had those days – the computer crashes, the car won’t start, there is a traffic jam and as a result you are late for work, the dog ate your homework and the list goes on.

The fast pace of modern life can easily get us all wound up. Not so long ago, humans, like all animals on the planet, moved through time at nature’s pace. We measured time by cycles – the rising and setting of the sun, the changing of the moon, and the passing of the seasons. Today, it feels like humans’ relationship with time has been both disconnected entirely from the earth’s natural cycles, and is dizzyingly fast.

Luckily, there is an antidote to stress, and it’s right outside your door – nature. More and more research shows the profound effects that fresh air, plants, trees, and water have on humans’ well-being. When individuals spend time in the natural environment, this has the ability to elevate one’s mood, feel more internally calm, think more positively, and be in greater unity with the world’s surroundings. Scientist Roger Ulrich found that patients whose hospital window overlooked natural settings recorded shorter recovery times, required less potent pain medication, and evaluated their stay in the hospital as much more positive than patients who overlooked a brick wall. Similarily, researcher Dr. David Lewis found that the scent of grass can actually help drivers avoid road rage – the heart rate and blood pressure of motorists drastically lowered when smelling grass.

These two studies are just two examples which link faster recovery from stress, elevated mood, better overall health, and increased self esteem with nature stimuli. Yet we seldom indulge in the natural environment, spending most of our time in our homes, offices, shopping centres, and cars. Still, this does not necessarily mean we have to all pack up camp and move to the boondocks. It does, however, mean that we have to change our paradigm that real relaxation is found on the couch in front of the television, and get outdoors!

There are opportunities all around us to get outside, whether it be eating lunch in a park, walking the dog, going for a jog, birdwatching, or simply stepping outside, taking it all in, and listening to the wind in the leaves. And just because it is getting colder out does not mean you have to go into hibernation mode. There is no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing! Dress appropriately and enjoy the same things you do in the warmer months, or better yet, take on a winter sport such as cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or iceskating. Ottawans (and many Canadians for that matter) are lucky to live in close proximity to many natural spaces, including the beautiful Gatineau Park, just north of the city. Take advantage!

Staying connected to the natural world not only helps alleviate stress, but also benefits us spiritually, mentally, and physically. So take a chance and get outside! You’ll be glad you did.