Stress, Covid-19 and Nature

Are you quarantined due to Covid-19? Perhaps you have lost your job or maybe all you do is go from home to work and back, in order to protect yourself and family. Have you been out of contact with friends and loved ones due to Covid-19? 

Are you concerned about friends or family members who are currently ill with Covid-19? Have you lost loved ones to this terrible disease?

Are you responsible for keeping children occupied, productive, and happy, as well as helping them navigate virtual school? 

The common denominator of all the above situations is increased stress. Covid-19 has led to exponentially increased levels of stress for EVERYONE. We have all been impacted in some way by this pandemic. 

When we look at stress from the perspective of brainwave activity, we find that stress increases beta brainwave activity. Conversely, like the chicken and egg puzzle, increased beta brainwave activity increases feelings of stress. Whatever the reason for the increase in beta brainwave activity, the result is feelings of stress.

Stress negatively affects our sleep, our moods, our relationships, our work, our eating habits, and our health. Finding ways to reduce stress during these unsettling times is even more important now than in normal everyday living.  

You are probably already aware that meditation, mindfulness practices, and exercise have all been proven to reduce stress. Also, taking three, slow deep breaths instantly helps relax the brain and reduce beta activity.

But, what else can we do? Have you ever been told to go take a walk and “cool off”? 

It turns out that taking a walk really does make a difference. However, what science is discovering is the key to releasing stress is walking in areas that have a natural setting with trees, grass, plants, shrubs, and/or green areas. Studies in both Japan and Finland found that people who walked in a natural, woodland setting experienced lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, and less anxiety. These changes did not occur when the same people walked the same amount of time in urban settings. (Greater Good Online Magazine)

Scientists have discovered that interacting with nature changes brainwave activity. 

Peter Aspinall, (Emeritus Professor of Environmental Studies at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh) and associates used mobile EEG machines to track volunteers as they walked in various settings. Walking in green urban areas versus busy traffic urban areas lowered beta brainwave activity.  Lower beta waves allows increased alpha wave activity, which improves brain relaxation and lowers stress. (Cities and Health Online Journal)

David Strayer, of the University of Utah states: “Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.” (Greater Good Online Magazine)  

Even more interesting, just watching color and sound videos of natural scenes also lowers beta activity and relaxes the brain. 

Roger Ulrich of Texas A&M University and colleagues, showed that participants who viewed a stress-inducing movie, and were then were exposed to color/sound videotapes depicting natural scenes, showed much quicker, more complete recovery from stress than those who’d been exposed to videos of urban settings. (Greater Good Online Magazine)

.

The significance of these studies is clear: interacting with nature is a proven method to reduce stress. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to find a way to interact with a natural setting. 

Most importantly, it doesn’t have to be a hike in the mountains, although that is an awesome way to connect with nature. Interacting with nature can be as simple as walking down a quiet, tree-lined street, visiting a local park, or sitting under a tree in your own backyard.

A substantial finding that especially applies to people who are in quarantine, in rest homes, or who otherwise are physically unable to go outside, is that simply watching nature videos has the positive effect of lowering stress levels. 

Instinctively, we know that being in natural settings feels good. We now have scientific proof that spending time in a natural setting lowers blood pressure, heart rate and beta brainwaves. When beta brainwave activity is lowered, feelings of anxiety and stress are relieved and feelings of relaxation and well-being increase. 

So, please, let’s all go for a walk amid trees, grass and flowers. Listen to the birds and smell the flowers. Allow the sights, sounds and smells of nature to soothe our hearts and minds.

References:

“The impact of walking in different urban environments on brain activity in older people.”

Greater Good Magazine

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