4 ways being outside can help with stress
14-20 May is national Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and this year the focus is on stress. Stress can affect us at any age, including in childhood.
Stress is an emotional and physical response to feeling overwhelmed. Some stress is good for us – it’s a signal to act and get going. Stress was a lifesaver in the days of sabre-toothed tigers! The problems arise when we experience stress out of proportion to the threats we face – making our lives feel difficult and unpleasant.
It can occur when we have too many demands on our time, and it can also be triggered by the expectations we have of ourselves and others. So pre-schoolers, while they might seem to have a relaxing time of it, can still experience the anxiety and misery resulting from stress. In children, stress often shows itself in behaviour changes such as mood swings, angry outbursts or bed-wetting.
While the outdoors isn’t always the complete medicine, it can definitely help reducing stress levels, whatever your age.
Being in nature can lower cortisol levels
Cortisol is the hormone produced when we feel stressed. Too much cortisol triggers our bodies to react, causing symptoms such as indigestion, headaches or fast breathing. Doing anything relaxing can help lower cortisol levels, but studies suggest that being in nature is particularly effective.
A Dutch experiment asked participants to either read indoors or do some gardening outside after completing a stressful activity – the gardeners reported better moods and had lower cortisol levels.
Nature helps our minds relax
Our brains are permanently switched on, but in stress states they can become overworked. Being outside helps us switch into daydream mode, which is the way our brain relaxes. There is so much gentle stimulation in nature, our brains just enjoy taking it all in.
Biologist Edward Wilson coined the term ‘biophilia’ in 1984 and believes that humans are predisposed to love nature, due to our evolutionary journey. We evolved as a species to tune-into and work with the natural landscapes for thousands of years, only recently moving away from this to more sedentary, urban and technology-based lifestyles.
Nature can raise our endorphin levels
Endorphins are commonly considered the ‘feel good’ hormones. One of the easiest ways to produce them is exercise. Getting outside and having a walk or run is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get this hormone high – we get the satisfaction of completing something, a sense of wellbeing, better sleep regulation and higher daytime energy levels. There’s a lot to love about a daily dose of getting outside in nature!
Nature brings us together (or gives us a place to escape from it all!)
Often, when children are feeling stressed, quality time with a trusted adult can help things feel more manageable. Getting outside for a game of tag, hide and seek or a nature walk is a great way to reconnect and give children the space to talk if needed.
On the other hand, for adults who are feeling the effects of stress, a solo walk can help get problems into perspective and break out of stress cycles.
We are great believers in being outside to help us feel better! But if you are feeling the effects of stress, it’s important to seek help. The Mental Health Foundation has resources and links to support.
Let us know your favourite ways to de-stress outside on our Facebook Page!