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WHY IS BEING IN NATURE SUCH A GOOD DE-STRESSOR?

WHY IS BEING IN NATURE SUCH A GOOD DE-STRESSOR?

It’s that time of year when we are looking to get out and about. The kids are off school, the UK weather is actually being kind to us(!) and it seems almost criminal to be indoors during weather like this. 

Aside from the hassle of actually getting everybody out the door, I think most of us would agree that being out in nature makes us feel good. The kids have renewed energy when they are outside; adults seem better able to “switch off” and relax.  If you live or work in the city, then escaping to somewhere green really enhances your feeling of “getting away from it all”, alongside which it FEELS good to be out in the countryside, away from exhaust fumes and noise, surrounded instead by the scents & sounds of nature…

Is this ‘feel good factor’ just a myth, or is there more to it…?

 

A FABULOUS EXCUSE

I am here to give you a fabulous excuse to book a weekend away in a beautiful corner of countryside, in the true knowledge that this is PROVEN to be good for your wellbeing – both physical and mental. Indeed the Japanese spent $4million researching the benefits of so called ‘Forest Bathing’, concluding that this is

“scientifically proven to improve your health”

Forest Bathing essentially just means being in the presence of trees. The whole point of the experience is NOT to achieve something, but simply to “be”. You might sit, you might stroll, you might read a book, but most importantly you will RELAX in the presence of trees. We seem to instinctively sense that this is a pleasant and soothing thing to do, but we need to examine the research to understand the actual health benefits. Simply “being” in a forest environment has been shown to result in:

  1. lower concentrations of cortisol [the stress hormone]
  2. lower pulse rate
  3. lower blood pressure
  4. lower sympathetic nerve activity
  5. higher parasympathetic nerve activity

The first three are fairly self explanatory, but what about the nerve activity? Our SYMPATHETIC nerve system is what controls our ‘fight or flight’ response (our body’s ‘self-help’ reaction to – for example – being chased by a wild animal), so if being amongst trees reduces activity in this system this surely means we will be less ‘wired’. Meanwhile our PARASYMPATHETIC system does the opposite job, supporting our ‘rest and digest’ system and aiding our relaxation response…another plus for sitting amongst the foliage!

 

WHY AND HOW DOES THIS WORK?

The crux of it all comes down to one of my favourite #stressmanagement topics: essential oils. Particular essential oils called #phytoncides are found in wood and plants (and in some fruit and vegetables). Trees emit these oils to protect themselves from germs and insects. What is of especial interest to us is that the phytoncides affect the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells. These are cells which

“provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention”

And so whilst ‘bathing’ in a forest, we are in fact drinking in a fabulous immunity support “pill” via essential oils…and not a jot of medication in sight!

 

 

It is surely true to say that the overall calming effect of the forest environment must also be a contributory factor. When we immerse ourselves in green surroundings, with the soothing sounds of streams and babbling brooks, and the chatter of birds and wildlife each one of these plays a part in relaxing us. There are in fact so many elements that go to make up the therapeutic profile of the natural landscapes, helping us to ‘switch off’, ‘calm down’ and simply ‘reboot’, but if we are looking for scientific proof then it is the phytoncides and their affect on human health which  is the major player.

 

LITTLE & OFTEN

Encouragingly, all the evidence suggests that we don’t actually need to spend a LOT of time in nature to reap the benefits. It is more important to aim for regular contact, so “little & often” is a good one to aim for – and if we’re honest it’s also probably more realistic for many of us within our weekly schedules. If you live or work in urban areas, then try to get to the park during your lunch hour, or take a family picnic in the park on a summer’s evening, remembering that even just a little pocket of time amongst the greenery can be positive. You can still aim to venture a little further afield at the weekends, and ‘up’ the effects that much more…

So, if forest bathing is so simple to achieve, lovely to experience and 100% free, then what’s stopping you? Whether it’s a quick trip to somewhere local or a ‘note to self’ to plan that weekend away, you can now genuinely convince yourself that you owe it to YOU – and to your family – to “get away from it all” and experience the many proven therapeutic benefits of being AT ONE WITH NATURE.

 

“FACTS” ABOUT STRESS: TRUE OR FALSE?

“FACTS” ABOUT STRESS: TRUE OR FALSE?

Stress is very definitely ‘out there’, and it seems it is becoming more and more acceptable to admit to suffering from stress. I think this is a huge step in the right direction, and is hopefully a move towards removing the stigma surrounding mental health in general.

There is however a downside to this upsurge in conversations about stress. Now that there is such a plethora of information across the media, how do we know what is fact and what is fiction? Read on!

1. STRESS IS THE SAME FOR EVERYONE: FICTION. Stress is the body’s response to a perceived threat. Every individual will react in a slightly different way, dependent on many different factors: it is NOT a case of one-size-fits-all. Our reactions to stress are dependent on genes, life experiences, temperament, culture…and the list goes on. Equally the actual physiological response can differ in the individual: “there is considerable variation in level and type of hormones released by different people and in response to different stressors – [it is] not a simple physiological process”

https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-biology.html

2. STRESS CAN MAKE YOU PHYSICALLY SICK: TRUE. The stress response creates both behavioural and physiological reactions, hence the symptoms related to stress are many and wide-ranging. The involvement of hormones is key here: our hormones need to be in balance for the body to thrive. If we define stress as “any force that disturbs the natural equilibrium of the body” we understand the potential for stress to stop the body from thriving. Meanwhile chronic (ongoing) stress can lead to adrenal fatigue, whereby depletion of the adrenals and the HPA axis takes the body way out of balance, and potentially on the road to a myriad of health problems.

3. STRESS IS ALWAYS BAD FOR YOU: FICTION. Most of us can picture situations (perhaps leading up to a sport event or a work presentation) where our adrenalin races, our heart beats a little faster, our palms get a little sweaty…and then we go and perform really well. The stress response strengthens connections between neurons in the brain and boosts brainpower. Short term stress boosts the immune system, and can motivate us to succeed (imagine yourself working to a deadline – for some this is a huge motivator to keep going and to do well). Meanwhile dealing with a stressful situation can make us more resilient as it helps us to learn to deal better the next time around.

4. YOU MAY BE STRESSED EVEN IF YOU DON’T SHOW ANY PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS: TRUE. This goes hand in hand with the fact that stress is not the same for everyone. If you are a ‘coper’ you may show less outward signs of stress, even though the hormonal changes are still eating away at you on the inside, and still need to be addressed. Equally, use of medication or inappropriate behaviours (such as misuse of alcohol, nicotine or other drugs, or even excess use of caffeine) can mask symptoms. It must be understood that this can create its own dangers: it is important to be fully aware of any symptoms so that they can be addressed. Masking symptoms “may deprive you of the signals you need for reducing the strain on your physiological and psychological systems”. Lastly, we should remember that these sorts of habits tend to ‘up’ the negative impact that stress is already having on the body (we feel jittery, we have difficulty sleeping, blood pressure can be affected).

5. IF YOU ARE STRONG YOU WILL SIMPLY “GET OVER IT”: FICTION. Stress can create anything from minor headaches or skin complaints to high blood pressure and heart issues. These will not simply ‘go away’ unless the underlying stress is addressed in some way. “Admitting that you need help…doesn’t make you broken. It makes you fixable. And teachable”.
The one fact that is consistent throughout this is the need to be aware of and to address stress. Positive stress management techniques which are considered and appropriate to the individual can start to at least ease any complaints and start the body on the road to recovery…

10 FOODS TO RELIEVE STRESS

10 FOODS TO RELIEVE STRESS

When it comes to stress management, we often overlook how massively helpful our #nutrition can be. Two basic facts may help us to understand why our food intake is so important when it comes to stress:

  1. A huge portion of our serotonin (our ‘happy hormone’) is produced in the gut. If we are not taking care of the gut, production of these mood lifting chemicals will be compromised…definitely to be avoided if we are already feeling anxious and maybe a little low.
  2. About 70% of the immune system is found in the gut. We all know how likely we are to feel more run down and generally less healthy when stressed, so the last thing we want is to encourage reduced functioning of the body’s defence mechanisms. Instead we should be looking to “up” our immune responses, & this can best be done taking care of our nutrition.

Making good food choices when stressed has to start from an understanding of which nutrients are likely to be depleted when we are under stress. Additionally, certain foods which naturally enhance brain function, and/or increase energy levels will be helpful. Finally, ensuring good gut health in general is key.

  • Anxiety often leads to a deficit of folic acid: try asparagus, citrus fruits & juices, dark leafy greens, beans & legumes
  • Vitamin B levels may be low when stressed: try incorporating poultry, seafood, bananas, and leafy green vegetables, alongside eggs and milk to create your own vitamin B complex
  • Magnesium levels are likely to be low if you are stressed: try spinach, almonds, avocado, bananas…& dark chocolate!
  • Omega 3 fatty acids aid brain functioning (especially memory and mood), and also reduce inflammation, so these too are good for fighting stress. Think of oily fish such as salmon and tuna, along with flaxseeds, walnuts.
  • Amino acids can help stop us feeling sluggish and help clear ‘brain fog’: good sources are beef, eggs, fish, beans, seeds, and nuts.

Our gut health in general is dependent on gut flora and the gut barrier. To support these we need to be aware of including fermentable fibres and probiotics in our diet. For detailed yet concise explantation of this, check out the link here.

 

Finally, the bad news is that lots of those things we love to eat (& drink!) when we are stressed these should be absolutely out of bounds. So, if you really want a ‘self help’ list for combating stress, you should eliminate or at the very least cut down on:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Processed foods
  • Sugar

Typical symptoms of stress are low mood, fatigue and bring fog. So remember:

“if we eat better foods like lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fish, we short-circuit the junk food cravings and have higher energy levels and sharper mental focus…”

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