Published April 08, 2013
April is Stress Awareness Month, although it’s safe to say most of us are aware of stress every single day. Sometimes stress enters suddenly; at other times, it is a constant presence simmering just below the surface.
No matter its form, stress is bad for us: The Mayo Clinic’s website notes that stress has been linked to heart disease, sleep and digestive problems, depression, memory impairment and some skin conditions.
And yet, no matter how hard we try to avoid stress, it rears its ugly head time and time again. Now, it seems, the problem is trending younger: A recent study found that not only are millennials (anyone ages 18 to 33) increasingly stressed out, they are the most stressed out living generation.
The question remains of how to most effectively manage stress. While some people choose prescription medication or self-medication (drugs and alcohol), others opt for more natural approaches: acupuncture, massage, talk therapy or exercise.
Interestingly, it seems like simply spending more time in a natural environment could do wonders for stress reduction. Recent research out of Scotland showed that when people spent more time outdoors in a leafy park, it eased their “brain fatigue,” or feelings of overwhelming forgetfulness, distraction, and over-stimulation caused by phone calls, emails, television and the like.
But all of that was quieted by a simple walk through the park, according to the study, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Participants were less frustrated and more meditative when they entered a green space than they had been just moments earlier strolling through chaotic city streets.
This is an important lesson for people of all ages, particularly those living or working in crowded, hectic urban settings. Finding a few moments each day to simply step outside and take a quick break in the nearest green space might just save your life. After all, another recent report linked job “burnout” to coronary heart disease, a major risk factor for heart attack.
Beyond the scientific brouhaha, I have witnessed firsthand the curative effects of the great outdoors. Every summer for the last 15 years, groups of children arrive at The Imus Ranch for 10 days sans cell phone, television, video games or distraction of any kind. These kids are either recovering from cancer or another serious health problem, or coping with the emotional effects of watching a sibling struggle.
For nearly a week-and-a-half, their sole focus is tending to their horses and completing all the necessary chores that keep The Imus Ranch running smoothly. We spend copious amounts of time outdoors in the mountains of northern New Mexico. At the end of each go-round, they are less weary, more confident and don’t seem as burdened by their illness as they did upon arrival.
It has been a long, meandering winter. As the warmer weather finally materializes, get outside and do a mental spring cleaning. Take time to consider the major stressors in your life, and how to manage them so that you don’t get sick (or sicker). Go for a walk, or grab a picnic blanket and sit outside on the grass. Don’t bring your phone. Repeat as necessary, all season long.
Note: Information provided herein is not intended to treat or diagnose any health condition. As always, consult your healthcare provider with any questions or health concerns.