More and more research is showing a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. Not only that, but individuals who are more connected to nature tend to be happier in general.
- Interacting with nature offers a variety of therapeutic benefits. For instance, calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response. The visual aspects of nature can also have a soothing effect, according to Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. “Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.” Can’t go outside? It turns out that listening to nature sounds or pictures of nature settings can have a similar effect.
- How much time with nature is enough? “Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful,” says Dr. Strauss. “The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle.” It can be as simple as a daily walk in the park, a weekend trail hike or combining the nature outings with your regular exercise like cycling, yoga or power walking outdoors.
- “Many men are at higher risk for mood disorders as they age, from dealing with sudden life changes like health issues, the loss of loved ones, and even the new world of retirement,” says Dr. Strauss. “They may not want to turn to medication or therapy for help, and for many, interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use.”
People who have recently experienced stressful life events such as a death of a loved one, serious illness or unemployment can benefit greatly from nature outings. “Nature can have a powerful effect on our mental state,” says Dr. Strauss, “and there are many ways to tap into it.”
If you are experiencing stress or anxiety, find a health care practitioner who looks at the whole picture. Pharmaceutical drugs can help reduce anxiety but it may not work for every person. Aside from drugs, there are numerous treatment protocols and techniques that can benefit you and help address the symptoms and root causes of stress and anxiety (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals, etc.). Find a doctor who listens and cares for your wellbeing.
Dr. Ardyce Yik ND helps countless people in Hong Kong combat stress, reduce anxiety and reach optimal health using natural medicine and nutrition.