It’s not just you; stress is something everyone has to deal with, no matter how strong or confident they look on the outside.
Maybe for you it comes and goes in spurts. Or maybe you are one of victims of chronic, ongoing stress.
Stress that comes from work and personal sources. A hectic life. A highly demanding job that put undue pressure on you.
And, on top of the regular “every day stress,” there are those unforeseen changes that create additional anxieties and tensions.
Recent research has confirmed what some people already know, and that is that getting out in nature and the fresh air really can help.
Take a Walk
Many experts have long stated that taking breaks helps to clear the mind and alleviate stress, but, it is really the type of break that is taken that will determine just how much stress will be alleviated.
Dr. Marc Berman and researches at the University of Michigan concluded that general cognitive performance and memory were improved by 20% when people were exposed to nature, in their case, a 20 minute walk through an arboretum.
This research studied the effectiveness of nature on those who were tense and stressed due to work that calls for long periods of intense focus and concentration.
They also found that those who simply looked at images of nature in a dimly lit and serene environment gained more clarity of mind and a general cognitive boost.
The positive effect may lie in the fact that being in nature allows one to completely relax, and does not require any type of cognitive focus, it is simple enjoyment, which allows one to just “be” instead of having to focus and concentrate. This alone can go a long way to permitting the mind a rest period that allows for a reduction in stress.
So, instead of taking a walk down a busy street, where you might get overly stimulated and be on high alert when having to focus on traffic, a walk in nature allows you to just walk, without having to look out for anything.
For more on how nature effects your brain, read Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality by Eva M. Selhub.
Even Plants get Stressed Out
Plants cant run away from stress. But they can adapt to it.
In fact, researchers have discovered an important molecular cogwheel in a plant’s biological clock1. In reaction to temperature, it controls the speed of circadian, or daily, rhythms.
Transcription factors, which can be thought of as genetic switches, control gene expression in plants depending on external stresses such as light, rain, soil quality, or even animals grazing on them.
A team of researchers has isolated one such genetic switch, called FBH1, which reacts to temperature, tweaking the rhythm here and there as needed while keeping it on a consistent track.
“Temperature helps keep the hands of the biological clock in the right place,” says Steve A. Kay, of USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and corresponding study author. “Now we know more about how that works.”
Decoding the mechanics of interactions between the biological clock and the transcriptional network could enable scientists to breed plants that are better able to deal with stressful environments such as urban development of arable land and rising global temperatures.
“Global climate change suggests that it’s going to get warmer and since plants cannot run away from the heat, they’re going to have to adapt to a changing environment,” Nagel says.“This study suggests one mechanism for us to understand how this interaction works.”
Both plants and animals have transcription factors, but plants have on average six times as many, likely because they lack the ability to get up and walk away from any of their stressors.
“Plants have to be exquisitely tuned to their environment,” Kay says. “They have evolved mechanisms to deal with things that we take for granted. Even light can be a stressor, if you are rooted to one location.”
Among other things, Kay’s research explores how these transcription factors affect plants’ circadian rhythms, which set the pace and schedule for how plants grow.
Landscape and Urban Planning Study
Another study published in the journal of Landscape and Urban Planning revealed that the stress hormone cortisol and self-reported stress levels of participants was lower in those who lived near and around green spaces than in those who spent most of their everyday life in urban surroundings.
Catharine Ward Thompson, director of the OPENspace Research Centre says the being in a natural environment is key to alleviating stress, and even 5 minutes of being in a green space can improve stress levels.
Environmental Science and Technology Study
Another study conducted in 2010 found that participant’s moods improved substantially after spending only 5 minutes outdoors.
Wide open, natural surroundings provide several opportunities to improve mental and emotional health, which includes alleviating stress.
There may be several reasons.
• Going outside typically results in people getting some exercise, even if it is just a simple stroll.
• As previously mentioned, being out in nature allows one to just “be” without any type of pressure, focus, concentration or effort required on the part of the mind.
• Nature is peaceful. No one can argue that fact. What can be more calming and relaxing that breathing fresh air, hearing the gentle swish of leaves from branches swaying in a light wind, listening to the soothing sounds of water as it rushes down a small stream, gazing at a beautiful rainbow as it glistens under the clouds, or being surrounded by the gorgeous, greens, yellows and reds that are the stars of a beautiful fall day?
• It is also likely that when we are outside we instinctively breathe deeper, and breathing is one of the best ways to alleviate stress.
And, since we are not focused on a computer, a smartphone or that report that’s lying on our desk, we can actually let go, breathe in and let the mind recuperate and unwind, all of which, can reduce stress exponentially.
In reality, the studies only reveal what thousands who listen to the many nature relaxation CDs already know, nature is nurture.
Give it a Try
Take a walk in the park, visit some gardens, go to your local mountains, the beach, eat a picnic at the park on your next lunch break, go anywhere where nature is abound and see how it makes you feel.
When you are in a peaceful setting, it can go a long way to bringing inner peace, which will lower stress levels and bring calm to your mind, body and soul.
(1) Dawn H. Nagel, Jose L. Pruneda-Paz, and Steve A. Kay
FBH1 affects warm temperature responses in the Arabidopsis circadian clock
PNAS September 22, 2014 doi:10.1073/pnas.1416666111
(2) The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age by Richard Louv