“My anxiety is through the roof! It takes me forever to go to sleep, and once I finally do, I wake up in the middle of the night in panic mode. My heart pounds. My thoughts race. I can hardly breathe! And it never goes away–all day, every day! I’m on the verge of losing it. I’m so, so exhausted…”
“I can’t stop crying! I just feel so broken. It’s like I’m living my life one nightmare at a time! Life is just too hard. I can’t do this anymore!”
Maybe this is your life; maybe it’s the life of someone you know and love. Chances are, it hits close to home. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the US, with over 40 million people suffering from them; major depressive disorder affects more than 16.1 million people in the US, and persistent depressive order affects about 3.3 million adults. Often anxiety disorders and depression go hand in hand. Approximately half of those with depression also have an anxiety disorder.
Amazingly, only about 37 percent of those with anxiety seek treatment; and only 62 percent of those with major depressive disorder seek treatment. There are so many treatment options available that individuals don’t need to suffer as much as they do.
So why don’t people seek medical treatment? Many people dislike the side effects of medications used to treat these conditions. Some people are treatment resistant, and the medications and therapy just don’t seem to work for them. And some people are simply afraid to seek help because of stigmas associated with mental illnesses.
So what help is available to these individuals? There are many natural remedies that can work in conjunction with traditional therapies to bring greater relief, or even as a starting point for those who aren’t ready or able to seek professional help.
Using nature itself as an antianxiety/antidepressant remedy is one way. Try these three things to see if you experience some relief of your symptoms:
1. Get close to water.
Do you ever sit quietly next to a stream, listening to the sounds of water cascading over rocks? How about sitting at the beach, watching waves crash, and listening to the waves whoosh in and out over the sand? It’s so relaxing—so peaceful. Natural water sounds are some of the most calming sounds in nature. In fact, the sounds of moving water have been scientifically proven to have a restorative effect, physically altering connections in the brain.
Besides the sounds of water, saltwater itself has been shown to decrease depression by elevating tryptamine, serotonin, and melatonin in the bloodstream. So just putting your feet in the ocean can put you in a better mental state, calm you, and help you sleep.
2. Climb a mountain.
Have you ever stood on a mountain peak and looked at the breathtaking, awe-inspiring panoramic views? Studies show that when monitoring the brain activity of individuals looking at urban scenes, their brains had increased blood flow in the amygdala region where fear and anxiety are processed; when viewing natural scenes, that region wasn’t stimulated. Being in the mountains can actually elevate your mood and calm your nerves.
Did you know that the actual act of climbing has proven to decrease depression as well? Some attribute the improvements to the amount of mindfulness that needs to be exercised to successfully navigate a rock-climbing wall–leaving little room to worry about other things in life.
Combine the beautiful, anxiety-decreasing mountain views with the focus-intensive, depression-lifting act of scaling a mountain face, and you have an all-natural antianxiety/antidepressant.
3. Find a forest.
If you’re suffering from anxiety and depression, all you need to do is hop into your newly-purchased, used jeep wrangler and hit the back trails of your closest national forest or some other wooded area. These back trails will take you to some of the most serene parts of the forest–some of the most serene places in the country. Once you find your perfect spot, get out of your jeep and start walking and do a little “forest bathing”–slow down, walk the trails, become one with nature.
In one Japanese study, it was discovered that taking a fifteen minute walk in a forest can decrease the stress hormone, cortisol, by 16%, lower blood pressure by 2%, and drop the heart rate by 4%. A study in Finland shows that 40- to 50-minute walks stimulate enough physiological changes to elevate one’s mood. In other studies, nature walkers showed decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex where depression and negative ruminations originate.
There are so many studies confirming the benefits of being out in nature, that in Korea, the government has actually designated 37 forests to be “healing forest” to help individuals heal mentally and physically; Japan has 48 “therapy forests” and believe that spending time in nature improves our memory, makes us more empathetic, and decreases anxiety and depression.
Whether you’re already receiving therapy for your anxiety and depression, or whether you’re still trying to figure things out, making nature a part of your therapy can have exciting side effects. Get close to water, climb a mountain, find a forest–there are so many ways nature can touch you. Let the sights and sounds of nature work their magic.