How Nature Can Help with Stress
Have you ever felt very lethargic or unable to sleep when you are under a lot of stress? Do you get the urge to go to the toilet a lot before a job interview or big presentation? Grinding your teeth in your sleep?
Stress is something that most people will experience at one point or another. I have written a lot about my sciatica and how it has limited me recently. Having spoken to lots of friends and family about this, I believe anxiety can present in physical problems as well as emotional.
I have had probably the most stressful year ever in the last year. A combination of losing a job, starting a new job, working full time for the first time since having children, lockdown, Covid anxiety and personal issues with my children has resulted in me putting on weight, struggling to sleep, feeling anxious and depressed and in chronic pain from my back. An MRI has showed a bulging disc which it can be argued that would have happened anyway. But the resulting pain I have had for 9 months and the fact it isn't getting better despite heavy medication and accupuncture/osteopathy is linked to the immense stress I have been under I believe.
Stress Manifesting Physically
Stress can take a toll on many aspects of health and has a wide range of symptoms. Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. But, we are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress without ill consequences. Often we are so used to being stressed, we often know how bad it is until we are at the breaking point.
How do we know if we are stressed? The trick is to recognise the signs. Some of the most common symptoms are acne, headaches, chronic pain, constant colds, insomnia, decrease in sex drive, digestive problems, changes in appetite, depression, chest pain and rapid heartbeat and sweating. Other symptoms include nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet, dry mouth and difficulty swallowing, clenched jaw and grinding teeth. Too much stress can wear you down and make you sick, both mentally and physically.
Stress Manifesting Emotionally
Emotional symptoms of stress include becoming easily cross, frustrated, and moody;
feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control; having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind; feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed and avoiding others.
Spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing. This year, the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week was ‘Nature’. Access to the outdoors increases happiness, takes away stress and can improve mood and sleep. We all have different reasons for wanting to connect with nature more – whether it is practicing mindfulness in nature or eating a meal outside. Known as 'the wilderness cure', humans evolved in the great outdoors and your brain benefits from a journey back to nature.
Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. See Mind's advice about how, for example, doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have lots of positive effects.
Being around green spaces such as woods, meadows and parks and enjoying some green time or ecotherapy will really help you to relax. A chemical released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, has been found to boost the immune system.
Go for a bike ride, hike or dog walk in your nearest forest or woods to be around trees.
Going to a green space such as a park also gives children an opportunity for more active play and physical benefits. See my blog of 10 different ideas to get children outdoors and enjoying nature.
Forest bathing (the Japanese process of relaxation known as shinrin yoku) by being calm and quiet amongst the trees, whilst breathing deeply to help you de-stress.
A picnic or lunch in the woods is a great way to be together as a family or friends and enjoy your natural surroundings.
Blue space such as rivers, lakes and sea, and being by water is good for body and mind. It is associated with positive measures of physical and mental wellbeing, from reducing the amount of ‘noise’ in people’s minds to higher levels of vitamin D.
I have written a lot about how getting outside in nature has helped to relieve my pain. Especially wild swimming, which is all I can do at the moment and it brings me relief.
A Sense of Wonder
Ever wonder what life is all about? There is nothing like lying under a black sky filled with uncountable stars or feeling awed by a mountain range so vast it towers over you. Seeing how wondrous the natural world is can remind you how insignificant we are - in a good way. It can help to put any of your problems into focus.
I recently swam out to my local pier and underneath it with friends. As we swam out deeper than I have ever swam and I turned and saw the shoreline far behind me I felt great.
I was surrounded by big waves which were forcing me to swim to avoid being overcome by salty water and instead of feeling scared I felt in awe of the amazing sea. The water felt incredibly smooth around me, like silk and it was warm even though I was only in my swimming costume.
Afterwards I felt really happy for pushing my body to do something different and enjoying the majesty of the ocean.
There are many ways to help relieve stress, such as practicing mindfulness, exercising and doing yoga.
Forestry England has top tips and activities to get your meditation journey started in the woods.
Help is Available
If you are feeling stressed, talk to your doctor. Your symptoms could be signs of other health problems. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions. They can also signpost you to a therapist or counsellor.
Talk to your friends or family as well, let them know how you are feeling.
Why not boost your health and wellbeing in a natural way today? Getting outside in nature is great for both adults and children alike. What is your favourite way to de-stress? Tag me on social media with your favourite ways to unwind through nature.