In her series looking at proven “Stress Remedies,” Dr. Doni looks at how spending time in nature is the most versatile of the lot.
In recent articles, I have written about ways we can help our bodies reduce or recover from stress and be more resilient to stress. We want to do that because:
a) we’ve all been exposed to stress in many forms; and
b) we will continue to be exposed to stresses – that’s simply part of being human.
I want to reassure you that, just because you’ve been exposed to stress doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. Your body is built to recover from stress, when you give it the right support. This support comes in many forms and research has demonstrated a number of things we can do to help our recovery. You can read all about them in my ebook Stress Remedies but today I want to focus on just one – the healing touch of mother nature.
Nature as a Stress Remedy
Of all the potential stress remedies, experiencing nature is one of my favorites because you can benefit from it simply by allowing your brain to soak in the images and experiences of nature. It doesn’t require any sort of training (it’s automatic) and you can combine it with other stress remedies for an additive effect.
For example, by taking your dog for a walk in the park, you can combine spending time with animals, get some exercise, and experience nature. And by practicing mindfulness or spending time with family or friends while out in the open air, you can create still more combinations.
Even if you don’t actually go outside, nature can be on your side if you bring it inside, such as with plants or even photographs or pictures of nature. Research shows that looking at images of nature has a calming effect on our stress response. And when stress decreases, we also see an improvement on a physical level too – heart rate decreases, blood pressure goes down (when it’s too high) and muscles become less tense.1,2
How Does Nature Help Us?
That’s a great question and one that researchers are studying now.
We know that when people spend time gardening, their stress levels go down. We also know that when people spend time in the wilderness, such as on wilderness retreats, they experience profound healing. But how does that happen?3
We’re not entirely sure exactly how it happens, but we do know that it has something to do with how our brains perceive nature, and the things in nature such as the sky, trees, plants, air, temperature, the ground, water, animals, shapes, colors, and sounds. We have an inherent inclination to be in nature and an affection for plants and living things, referred to as biophilia, which is thought to be, in part, subconscious.
One theory suggests that our response to nature is based on innate knowledge of what would be good and protective for us. Trees, for example, can provide shelter and the green colors found so much in nature indicate plants filled with nutrients. In a way, it’s like how a dog innately knows to try to bury its bone for safe-keeping. Humans have an inner knowledge that aspects of nature are healthy. And the more you were exposed to nature as a child, the more you’ll benefit from nature as an adult.4
Another theory focuses on how exposure to natural environments is restorative to the body. It simply gives our brain a break because paying attention in nature is easy, and even involuntary.5
From my perspective, after all of my research into stress and how our bodies respond to it, when our brains see or pick up on nature through any of our five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell), it creates an immediate balancing effect that can last for hours.
Research indicates that a different part of our brain responds to natural scenery than the area that reacts in a more urban setting. When that happens, our hormones become more balanced, our neurotransmitters optimize, our immune system comes back into alignment, and our digestion stabilizes. All from a simple dose of nature.6,7
While some studies report that women who are highly stressed benefit more from exposure to nature, overall, plants improve our tolerance to pain, recovery time, attention and mood, especially flowers. No wonder giving flowers has become the iconic gift of love and compassion.8
What Kind of Support from Nature Helps Your Body Recover?
In my last post, I introduced the concept of CARE – the four most important daily activities that help us manage and recover from stress. Let’s look at them in the context of nature.
One way we interact with nature on a daily basis is through our food. Some things we might eat increase stress in our bodies – such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, farmed fish, and hormone-filled dairy products. Highly processed foods or fast food put a lot of additional stress on the body.
Figuring out which foods are stressful to your body and then avoiding them is the best way to support your body. Instead, try to stick to fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and even fish, poultry, and meats. By making some simple changes to your diet you’ll also be healing leaky gut, balancing the healthy bacteria in your digestion, and decreasing inflammation. You can read more about leaky gut and food sensitivities here.
Getting Adequate Sleep
Sleep is when our bodies rest and recover. Even while we sleep, our bodies are responding to our environment, including the darkness, sounds, temperature, electromagnetics, and more. By providing the most natural environment for sleep, you’ll sleep better and be healthier. In fact, lack of sleep is one of the biggest potential stressors for our bodies. That’s why I’m writing a whole book about natural ways to better sleep. Find out about the book and sign up to receive free sleep tips here.
Reducing Stress with Stress Remedies
Stress Remedies are activities that have been found by research to decrease the feeling of being stressed as well as to help optimize hormones and neurotransmitters associated with stress. Nature is arguably one of the best stress remedies there is. It can benefit your health even with relatively short durations of exposure. Spending time looking at a computer screen, on the other hand, increases health risks and mortality.
Perhaps it is time for a dose of nature? Even bringing nature indoors by having a house plant has been shown to make a substantial difference to one’s health.9, 10 I have already covered other specific stress remedies, including mindfulness and spending time with animals in recent blog posts.
Movement – whether strength training, cardio, or any other kind of exercise that appeals to you – has consistently been shown to help us recover from stress. Exercising in some way, each day, even for a small amount of time, makes a big difference in preventing various forms of chronic disease. When you can combine exercise with being out in nature (by going for a hike, skiing, or swimming for example) you’ve effectively combined nature with exercise for cumulative benefit to your health.
You can read more about this and other topics, by signing up to receive my weekly newsletter. When you do, you will also receive my free guide on how to recover from adrenal stress.
Introducing My New Nature-Inspired Logo
I’m so enthralled by the concept of nature as a healer that when I recently went through a process of reviewing the logo for my business, I went to great lengths to ensure that my new logo emphasizes and provides an experience of nature.
One of the ways that I did this was to include the fibonacci spiral. This spiral is known in mathematics to be a predictable, yet charming pattern that appears in nature all the time, such as in flowers, sprouts, shells, in the human body and in the universe. Just as looking at photos of nature is calming, looking at photos of the fibonacci spiral in nature, or meditating on the pattern, would also reduce stress.
In the new logo, nature is represented as a plant sprout inside of a heart, which has several meanings to me. Nature is always in your heart – and nature is at the heart of us as humans.
The heart also represents “nurture.” For many years, there was a controversy of nature vs. nurture – in other words, does genetics or environment determine health? That controversy has been resolved with research proving that both nature and nurture play a role in health and wellness.
And so I bring you the Nature and Nurture logo, which represents the unity of both in our lives. May you all be surrounded by nature and plenty of nurturing on a regular basis. 🙂
Closing Thoughts – Some Nurturing for You
Whenever you are feeling stressed, remind yourself that a dose of nature could do you good, along with a few deep breaths. In fact, if you can integrate nature into each day in various ways – your favorite ways – then you’ll lower the effect of stress on your body.
If you’d like help peeling back the layers of your health issues and addressing them in a strategic way, including the CARE steps mentioned here, you may want to consider starting with my 7 and 21 day Stress Remedy Programs.
For individualized assistance and testing to determine exactly how stress has affected your cortisol, neurotransmitters and digestion, I offer one-on-one consultations and packages. You can set up an appointment by clicking here.
To read more, I recommend starting with my comprehensive book The Stress Remedy which includes a menu plan, recipes and other handy resources.
And finally, if you are a health practitioner wanting to implement this approach in your practice, please do sign up to receive updates when the practitioner course I’m developing is available.
Best wishes to you!
6th October 2016
- Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M. A., & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11(3), 201-230. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4287696/
- Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1207-1212. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/19/12/1207
- Burton, A. Gardens that take care of us. The Lancet Neurology, Volume 13 , Issue 5 , 447 – 448. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(14)70002-X/fulltext?rss=yes
- Lohr, V. (2007). Benefits of nature: What we are learning about why people respond to nature. Physiol Anthropol: 26(2), 83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435348
- Berto, R. The Role of Nature in Coping with Psycho-Physiological Stress: A Literature Review on Restorativeness. Behav Sci (Basel). 2014 Dec; 4(4): 394–409.
- Kim, T. (2010). Human brain activation in response to visual stimulation with rural and urban scenery pictures: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Science of the Total Environment, 408(12), 2600. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20299076
- Pearson, D & Craig, T. The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Front Psychol. 2014; 5: 1178. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4204431/
- Grinde, B & Grete, P. Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being? Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2009 Sep; 6(9): 2332–2343. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2760412/
- Mitchell, R., & Popham, F. (2008). Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: An observational population study. Lancet, 372(9650), 1655-1660.
- Stamatakis, E. (2011). Screen-based entertainment time, all-cause mortality, and cardiovascular events: Population-based study with ongoing mortality and hospital events follow-up. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 57(3), 292-299. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21232666