Everywhere you turn these days, you’ll see some kind of advice on fighting off holiday stress. Magazines, TV news, blogs all claim to have the cure. But you don’t need to look any further than just outside your window to find the oldest, easiest answer to soothing frazzled nerves. It’s in the little bits of nature all around us.
The restorative powers of natural surroundings are well documented. Beginning back in the 1970’s at the University of Michigan, researchers noticed that mental fatigue, and the associated psychological distress, was caused by too much direct attention to tasks. Creativity, cognitive abilities, and mood all suffer. The antidote to this is contact with or observation of natural scenery. People’s abilities and moods recover almost instantly.
The Japanese, who have long believed in the positive effects of nature, actually practice “forest bathing”. They wash away the stresses of urban life in greenery. New research started in 2004 to record the measurable positive effects of being outside. Blood pressure, stress hormones, depression all decrease after visits to forests. Results are so convincing, the government there intends to establish 100 “forest therapy” sites in ten years to help de-stress its urban population.
Steven Covey, in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, recommends week-long sojourns into the wilderness. The effects, he says, stay with you well after you return to “normal” life. I myself have found this to be true. It instills a sense of calm that persists for a good month or more. Problems at work, family conflicts, booked-to-the-hilt schedules, happen at the same rate they did before, but the stress seems to just roll off. It doesn’t stick.
But for those of us who can’t just take off and go camping whenever things get hectic, there are easy ways to add a bit of nature in your everyday life. Outside Magazine, in its December 6 e-newsletter, tells us that just five minutes of exposure to nature can make a difference in lifting your spirits. If you can’t do that, even photos of the out-of-doors can effectively substitute for the real thing.
But why make do when you’ve got it all just outside your door? We are fortunate in our state to have special districts established to provide public parks on a very local level. Right here in the Carol Stream Park District, nearly every home has a free public park within a five minute walk. And more and more, they are all connected by trail ways to make it easier for you to get the full benefits of nature therapy and some exercise to boot. Even if you’re not up to a walk or jog, a good quiet sit on a park bench, soaking up the scenery, will still lift your spirits and soothe your soul.