"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Get de-stressed: As easy as sitting outside

By on May 28, 2019 in Columnist with 0 Comments
June Darling

By June Darling

For several months I had relentless diarrhea. (Yes, embarrassing and possibly disgusting, but stick with me. I’m going somewhere with this.) The runs would go away and come back later. 

Eventually, at my wits end, I went to my general practitioner. 

I love my doctor. I usually feel better before I walk out the door. He’s bright, he’s calm and level-headed, he talks aloud to himself and to me. 

He had several ideas about what could be causing the problem, but I suspected that I knew the major culprit though it was difficult to really believe. Stress. Really? 

Stress is the catch all term for our brain’s belief that we are in danger, that a significant threat exists, and we don’t have the resources to cope, whether it is true or not. 

Stress is not always bad. We shouldn’t aim for a stress-free life — that isn’t realistic or optimally healthy. 

According to a special report called “The United States of Stress 2019” conducted by Everyday Health, however, people in the United States are uniquely chronically stressed. That’s not good.

Here were some key takeaways from the report for me:

n Almost one-third of those surveyed say they visited a doctor about something stress-related.

n 57 percent of the survey respondents say they are paralyzed by stress.

n 52 percent of Gen Zers (people born from mid-1990s to the early 2000s) have already been diagnosed with a mental health issue.

Other research points to increasing anxiety, drug use and suicide, which some researchers believe are unhealthy ways we respond to stress. Researchers agree that we need effective stress reduction techniques. 

And we know what they are. Sound sleep, exercise, proper diet, meditation, breathing techniques, getting together with good friends, practicing gratitude and noticing the good things in our lives, listening to certain types of music, disputing irrational thoughts and many other practices. Pick one.

So what’s the problem? 

Even though we know de-stressers, we don’t consistently practice them. In fact, the more stressed out we are, the more we may be likely to drop our meditation, exercise and sound diet.

Why? Researchers have suggested it could be because we find the stress reducers difficult to do particularly when we are stressed. 

That idea has merit. It could also be we don’t believe those behaviors actually work to reduce our stress, so we eventually stop practicing them. 

Well, here’s one practice that has tons of research behind it and could not be easier. Go outside in nature and … nothing… just sit (of course, it’s fine to eat, sleep, exercise, read, meditate, or talk as well). The point is to experience nature.

Tons of top-notch research support the efficacy of being exposed to nature to de-stress and improve health and well-being. 

This has led to civic organizations and non-profits supporting nature-well-being treatments such as the Mood Walks program in Canada, the Dose of Nature project in the United Kingdom and the Coastrek program in Australia. The nature prescription is not news. 

But there have been questions. How long do I need to be out in nature? How often? What is “nature” exactly?

The latest research from Frontiers in Psychology, an environmental psychology journal, suggests the right dosage is to be in nature daily for 20 to 30 minutes. Staying outside longer continues to de-stress us, but not so much.

What about that “nature” question? Does “nature” mean a certain amount of green foliage or light? Trees? Water? What?

Go anywhere outside that makes you feel like you’ve interacted with nature. It’s subjective. If you think you are experiencing nature, you are.

But really, how good is the nature prescription? 

Researchers have several ways of biologically measuring stress. The nature prescription decreases stressful body chemicals (like cortisol) by 21 to 28 percent. That’s big. 

A day of sunshine could mean a day without running to the bathroom. But that’s me (and yes, I am doing better). You may need to talk with your doctor and experiment. 

June is the perfect month and the Wenatchee Valley is the perfect place for giving the nature prescription a try.

How might you move up to The Good Life by getting into nature for 20 to 30 minutes daily?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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