Once a year the doctor asks me, “on a scale of 1-10, on average, what is your stress level?” Every year, a huge smile spreads across my face as I answer, “9.” My smile is one of guilt, of knowing that I’m doing something wrong, or at least knowing that I’m not doing something all the way right. I work hard, I exercise, I read books that I love, I surround myself with my family and friends, I hold my cat every day, and I laugh all the time. So what’s with the heavy stress? This year, when my doctor asks me that daunting stress question, I’ll answer with a guiltless smile and say, “6.” Want to know how I dropped down three levels of stress? Because of dirt.
Well, in correct terms, because of soil. Because of trees, plants, birds, frogs, and water. Yup, because of nature. Some people aren’t so ready to announce their love for nature, fearing that they’ll be called a Hippie, a tree hugger, or some other stereotype assigned nickname. I’d like to think that most people don’t need to be reminded that humans used to (and in some places still do) live outdoors and survive solely on raw natural resources; that our current well-being is completely dependent on environmental health, water and air quality being two obvious necessities. In 2007, it was reported that around 2.5 billion people living in developing countries are forced to rely on biomass—fuel wood, charcoal and animal dung—to satisfy their energy needs for cooking. This statistic includes over 80 percent of sub-Saharan Africa and over half of the populations of India and China. Here, you’re called a “granola head” for eating local and refusing bottled water.
We shouldn’t feel cheesy about our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual connections with nature; we should embrace it and spread the joy. I fell in love with Mother Nature six years ago, and we have a strong relationship (although she gives me a lot more than I give her…I’m working on that). So why has it only been this past year that I can proudly say that I have reduced my stress levels by simply going outside? As much as I knew the health benefits of being out in nature, I got caught up in the busy that is my life. Even a 10 minute break outdoors can do wonders. A study published in 1989 from Texas A & M in 1989 suggested that even films of nature scenery were stress reducing. In 2008, a University of Washington study showed that nothing works as well as the real deal. Looking at a nature scene on a TV screen did not decrease heightened stress levels of study participants, whereas looking at the real nature scene did. So please, watch the wonders on the Discovery Channel, but be sure to experience your neighborhood forests first-hand, as well.
In a matter of minutes, I can recover from nearing an anxiety attack by going outside and breathing in nature. My awe over its beauty, gratitude for its resources and services, and fascination with its complexity are enough to help me rise above stress and simply be. You don’t have to meditate if it’s not your thing; try sitting, lying, or relaxing in a yoga child’s pose/Balasana on the ground. I like child’s pose because it brings my heart and mind to the earth. Be barefoot and make direct contact with soil, water, and vegetation. And, one of the most important things, get kids out in nature. Raining? Of course it is, but you and your little ones are tough!
Ready for some tips and resources?
- Some of my favorite places to enjoy nature in Redmond include the trail systems at Nike Park, Hartman Park, and Grass Lawn Park. Be sure to check out Grass Lawn’s awesome Low-Impact Development (LID) features. Here is the full list of Redmond’s parks, find one near you!
- Explore Bellevue’s beautiful Mercer Slough Nature Park. At the park, you will find the Pacific Science Center’s Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center that offers environmental education programs and camps for youth and families!
- A great read and a great title by David Suzuki- The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature
- Let's enjoy and protect Redmond's natural areas. Redmond Wild, which always welcomes new volunteers, strives to create and conserve local wildlife friendly spaces, such as backyards, schoolyards, and community centers. Green Redmond Partnership is working hard to keep our urban forests healthy, and hosts fun habitat restoration volunteer events!
- Finally, get kids outside, and get out there with them! Here is a wonderful new guide called “Nature Play at Home” from the National Wildlife Federation as part of its Be Out There campaign, which promotes connecting youth with nature and inspiring environmental stewardship values.
We want tips from you!
What do you do to reduce stress? How do you spend your time outdoors? Where are your favorite places to enjoy nature?