I imagine that the things that cause sadness also cause stress. As noted in part one of Mood Indigo, we as a society are a pretty blue bunch. We find less joy in our careers than many other societies around the world. Most likely because most of us are not doing what we really want to be doing. Hell, it may not even be an option for some.
Given the sad state we find ourselves cocooned in, adding stress to the picture can only increase the fragility of our mental being. But there are things that we can do to counterbalance the negative affects.
This is not new stuff but it is stuff we often forget about. I’m speaking of the power of green space. Researchers are discovering, with each passing day, that surrounding yourself with nature can be one of the most powerful stress-relievers available. And its mostly free.
Did you know that those who live in areas with the most amount of green space show lower levels of cortisol and their self-reported feeling of stress is lower than those who spend more time in urban settings? Catherine Ward Thompson, director of the OPENspace Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland says that getting outside forces you to get a little exercise which is a natural energy boost.
It is said that focusing on natural scenes gives voluntary attention a rest and allows involuntary attention to take over and recharge the human psyche. In other words…chill the f*#! out! Cities with high numbers of parks are reportedly having more success battling obesity and diabetes. Even relatively passive contact with nature-such as viewing it from a window- lowers blood pressure and anxiety levels.
So what do you do? It’s as easy as a walk in the park really.
You must find your go-to spot. I have 2 of them. While I do have windows in my office, one is roughly 4 feet off the ground and looks onto another building. The other provides a view of the landscape outside our building. I need only glance over my left shoulder for a glimpse of leaves and flowers bending to the force of a breeze. But on a particularly stressful day at work, I take a stroll across my University’s quadrangle. The trees, grass and ivy covered buildings provide a sense of peace and calming.
On a sunny day, when it is quiet there, it’s like floating on a cloud. And the affects are far from ephemeral. The peace stays with me for quite some time for the remainder of the day. I am also fortunate to have a rose garden just two blocks from my office. There I think through issues or think about nothing at all. Nothing but the wonderful variety of roses to behold.
Perhaps one of my favorite places in the world is Green Lakes State Park which lies just a mile and a half from my home. Acres and acres of woods, trails, two lakes and a championship golf course provide the perfect natural setting. I go often after work and on weekends to run, walk the dogs or quietly stroll and think. One of my favorite thinking spots is the bench pictured above.
A stroll on the scenic trail around Green and Round lakes is good for people watching or nature watching. Brief chats with other visitors is also an added benefit.
The park staff take great care in leaving things in their natural state which makes for a more authentic natural experience.
While I do enjoy my alone time, my more favored moments are when my family joins me on the journey. We talk and laugh and connect in ways that you can’t in front of the television.
These natural spaces need to be protected in order to preserve our own health. Our physical and mental health are dependent on them.
If you want less stress and more happiness in your life, don’t take green space for granted. In fact, be more strategic with how you incorporate it. Do anything that you would normally do inside on the outside. Eat a meal outside or trade a treadmill run for an outdoor run. Surf the net on your patio. Do you normally prescribe an afternoon coffee pick-me-up? Try walking on a nice day instead. Move a casual or work related chat with a colleague outdoors.
Spring and summers in the northeast are very short. I try to take advantage of as much outdoor time as I can. I am a much happier person when I do.
Do you have a go-to green space? I’d love to hear about it.