The Green Blog
Take a Break with Nature!

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Although we promise ourselves that we are going to slow down or take a break from the hectic pace of today's technologically-connected life, few of us do so. What would you say if I told you that the easiest way to give your body and mind a break from stress is right outside your door? That's right -- communing with nature can lower your stress levels dramatically and provide the relaxation that we all need.

As far back as 1989, when technology was just beginning to exert its hold on us, Roger Ulrich, an associate dean in the College of Architecture at Texas A & M University, and his colleague, University of Delaware psychologist Robert Simons, did a study which showed 120 students a graphic, 10-minute accident film. Before and after the film, viewers' stress levels were evaluated, using such standard measures as blood pressure, muscle tension and heart rate, along with a self-rating of stress.

Next, students viewed a videotape of a nature or urban scene for 10 minutes. One nature scene showed a peaceful river, the other a forest. The urban scenes depicted a street with heavy traffic, a street with light traffic, an outdoor mall with many pedestrians and an outdoor mall with few pedestrians. Viewers' stress levels were again evaluated.

"Participants recovered more quickly and more completely from stress when exposed to either of the nature settings than to the urban settings," Ulrich says. "By the end of 10 minutes, people who viewed the nature scenes were as relaxed or sometimes even more relaxed than before viewing the accident film." (Source: Los Angeles Times, "Nature Has Charms That Can Reduce Stress." Doheny, Kathleen, July 25, 1989.)

As each season changes, stop to take a moment in your day to notice what nature is doing. The subtle transformation as leaves change color in the fall, even the change to the scent in the air; in winter, the soft, quiet beauty of a snowfall blanketing the ground; and in the spring, the signs of new life as flowers begin to bud and then bloom into joyous colors. Even if you don't live where the change in seasons is quite so noticeable, there are still changes to be seen as well -- the beauty of a shimmering desert in the Arizona sun or the soft lull of the ocean waves against the white sands of the Florida coast.

Contemplate the sky at night to look for stars or the shape and color of the moon. You'll be amazed at how quickly your mind calms, your heart rate slows and peace envelops you.

Planning vacations around outdoor activity is another great way to reduce stress. Vacations centered around the beach, hiking, camping or skiing are just some of the ways to enjoy the grandeur of nature.

Even simple tasks like yard work, gardening, shoveling snow or other outdoor activities, while good for you physically, help to calm your mind and ease stress.

Richard Louv, cofounder of the Children and Nature Network, introduced the term "nature-deficit disorder" as a way to describe the growing gap between kids and nature, and the consequences. "What would our everyday lives be like if we were as immersed in nature as we are in technology?" he asks. So don't forget to include your children as you return to nature, whether through a walk in the woods, planting flowers, bird watching, or any other activity that teaches your children respect for and love of the natural world.

The next time you need to get away from the cell phone or the computer, even looking out of a window at a tree or flower bed and taking a deep breath can calm your being. For the most part, nature is free and ready to work its restorative powers on you. So give it a try!

Also, read: Can Waterfalls Really Make You Happy?
Can More Nature Help You Live Longer?
Study Reveals 5 Minutes of ‘Green Exercise’ Boosts Mental Health