Did you know that an excellent stress relief solution lies just outside your door? Studies have shown that nature calms us and makes us happier. Spending some time outside each day will boost both your spirits and your immune system. Read on to find out how.
According to research, being in nature has multiple health benefits. It lowers our blood pressure, decreases production of stress hormones, slows our heart rate, decreases muscle tension, reduces feelings of fear and anxiety, helps us focus, improves our mood, and helps us cope with pain and discomfort. Being outside leaves us refreshed and rejuvenated.
And exposure to sunlight has its own benefits. Sunlight spurs production of both serotonin, which boosts your mood, and vitamin D, which is essential for good health and supports your immune system. Serotonin production is spurred when sunlight enters your eyes, so spend some of your time outside without sunglasses (but don’t look directly at the sun). Spend about five to ten minutes without sunscreen as well, since getting sunlight on your skin is what triggers vitamin D production. (As the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., you may want to do this in the early morning or late afternoon.)
If you get sunlight in the morning, it can also help regulate your sleep cycle, further supporting your physical and mental health. It does this by reinforcing your body’s circadian clock, which runs many of your biological processes. Our circadian clock revolves around the patterns of the sun; in fact, the word “circadian” is Latin for “around day.” At sunset, our body releases melatonin to help us sleep. At sunrise, melatonin production is decreased to help us wake up. Exposure to sunlight in the morning enhances the suppression of melatonin. This is most effective if you go outside within two hours of waking up.
Here are a few ways to enjoy time outside:
- Take your morning coffee or tea with you and sip slowly. Soak up the sunshine, listen to the birds, watch the clouds scud across the sky.
- Go for a walk and don’t look at your phone or listen to music; just enjoy the sights and sounds you encounter.
- Stand barefoot on a patch of grass or dirt and really feel your connection to the earth. Imagine that you are sending roots down into the ground and drawing up energy and nourishment into your body.
- Find a “sit spot” on the ground and sit in silence while you breathe deeply and pay attention to the natural world around you. What do you see—tiny insects, flowers blooming? What sounds can you hear—the wind rustling through the trees, crickets chirping? What scents do you smell—freshly cut grass, the perfume of nearby flowers? Feel yourself relaxing as you ease into nature’s slower pace.
Go outside as often as you can during this stressful time, and let nature help you feel better.