Stress Less in Nature

stress less in nature

We all experience it and we all have ways to manage it – some ways are more healthy and effective than others! This post is all about stress, the relaxation response, and how you can learn to stress less in nature.

Stress has a purpose

Typically we associate stress with overwhelm, overwork and feelings of dread and anxiety. It’s a complex system that involves your brain, nervous system and a range of bio chemicals that gets you ready for action. A couple of the stress hormones are quite famous so you’re probably familiar with their names – epinephrine or adrenaline, and cortisol. These hormones can have an enormous impact on your physiology – your muscles become tense, and your heart rate and breathing rate increase.

These sorts of responses are really helpful when you’re in immediate danger because they help you to move quickly, for example to jump out of the way towards safety if you need to.

Ongoing stress impacts health

But when your brain and body remain in this type of stress loop for a long period of time, there are other impacts on your health – high blood pressure, coronary problems, brain changes that can contribute to depression, anxiety and addictions, obesity, problems with sleeping, difficulty relaxing and winding down, and irritability.

It’s as if your body is on full throttle and the brakes aren’t being activated.

stress less for better health

Be ‘stress aware’

But did you know that this ‘full gas’ stress response can also happen when life seems good? When you’re racing through life, exercising hard, working long hours at a job even one that you love, coming home to care for your family, taking the kids to sport, getting the groceries, renovating the house, socialising on weekends – well, there’s a certain level of load on your body and brain then too. It’s important that you take stock of all of your loads, not just the dreaded ones when you’re trying to understand how your body deals with stress. You may not be aware of the build-up of your loads until things come crashing down.

Regulate your stress response

So if there’s a whole lot of throttle in your life, whether it’s wanted or unwanted, how can you regulate it so that your stress response doesn’t become unhealthy and lead you toward poor health – physical and mental?

#1 Where are you spending your energy and attention?

You can do an audit of your life to see where your energy and attention is going. Ask yourself:

  • Are there things you can change, maybe let go of, or reprioritise to reduce the load?
  • Are you saying yes to too many things?
  • Do you feel pressure to live your life a particular way even though it might not feel right for you?
  • Are you drinking lots of coffee? Alcohol? Tobacco or other drugs? These all put a load on your body and your brain.
  • What about your sleep? Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep adds another load on your life.
  • And your nutrition – what foods are you taking into your body that might be adding to your stresses or loads?

Once you’ve done some sorting to identify what’s contributing to your loads, you can move onto the next step.

Saying no

#2 Bring about a relaxation response

If you’ve cleaned up the loads in your life, it’s now time to bring about a relaxation response. A relaxation response is a bit like the brake that stops the stress response from continuing to escalate and the stress building up over time. A relaxation response can counteract the stress response to some extent by slowing the breathing and heart rate, reducing tension in the muscles, lowering blood pressure and increasing a feeling of inner calm.

So what’s the secret formula to this amazing brake-inducing relaxation response?

You can learn to bring about a relaxation response using a range of cognitive (mind-based) and behavioural (action-based) strategies. Some of the most powerful ones are:

  • certain breathing practices
  • visualisations
  • meditation
  • tai chi
  • yoga
  • prayer

It can be very helpful to have a mentor or a teacher guide you to find the best practice for you and to help you problem-solve it when it doesn’t seem to work. This is one of my favourite parts of the work I do, because I know just how transformational it is when you discover a technique or strategy that meets your needs. In fact I believe that meditation and breathing practices are so important that they feature in every women’s retreat and every workshop I run no matter what the topic is, even my professional development programs!

stress less with breathing practices

More ways to bring about a relaxation response

Physical exercise can also help you to stress less and bring about the relaxation response. Brisk exercise is really good for releasing stress and tension, and gentle exercise can bring about a sense of calm. So my recommendation is to make sure you have a combination of brisk and gentle exercise in your week. Even better – learn to read your body patterns over time so you know which type of exercise you need at different times.

And another important ingredient here to managing your stress load is having great supports and relationships in your life.

Stress less activities in nature

nature is my therapy bundleI’ve included some of my favourite stress less activities that you can do in nature in the “Nature is my Therapy Bundle”. You can grab a copy of this for yourself (for a limited time only) by heading over to my website and signing up for my email newsletter Grounded Inspiration. At the time of writing this blog post, the Nature is my Therapy Bundle is a gift that I send to all new subscribers of Grounded Inspiration.

But in the meantime here are some stress less activities that you can do in nature right now:

  • Go outside and spend a few minutes simply being still, listen to the sounds around you
  • Go for a walk outside to clear your head
  • Have a yummy picnic in a natural environment
  • Take your drawing, painting, writing or other craft outdoors
  • Go on a nature treasure hunt
  • Explore a park
  • Give your worries to something outside like a tree or a stream
  • Snap some photos of the beautiful little treasures you find outside
  • Go on a camping trip
  • Take your meditation practice outdoors
  • Watch the sunset or sunrise
  • Grow a garden, pot plants or herbs for kitchen

Let's sum up!

I do hope this post has given you a little bit of understanding about how stress works in your body, how it can affect physical and mental health, the importance of managing the loads you have in your life, and how you can bring about a relaxation response to put the brakes on the stress response. And of course some ideas to take your stress less activities outdoors and immerse yourself in nature.

Do you have a favourite stress less activity in the outdoors? Let me know by sending me a message!

Listen in to the podcast episode here!

Daisy Spoke

Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections in Daisy Spoke that connect, inspire and self-empower women to make healthy choices for themselves. She integrates her love of physical exercise, family, nature, gardening and creative arts with her professional background in mental health social work to facilitate change with individuals, groups and communities of women who are committed to living life to the full.

Technology and MTB: how DO you use that infernal gadget!?

 

 

technophobe: someone who dislikes new technology, especially computers, and is not able to use it with confidence

(Cambridge Dictionary)

Ummm….. yep …. sounds like me, although I would not normally label myself “technophobe”. I might say I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to technology, or that I’m more of a ‘people person’ and find technology less interesting. I definitely have shown a preference for other people to sort out my tech issues with computers, gadgets and other devices, and this mostly works fine because some people seem to really enjoy it. Or at least have a bit of an idea of what they are doing and can get the job done quickly.

Technology and MTB have a pretty interesting relationship. Technology has enabled the development and production of amazing equipment – lightweight and strong bike frames, hydration packs, sweat-wicking kit, chamois and knicks that enable all-day riding, exercise nutrition, pocket-sized phone cameras, and GPS devices.

Without thinking about the work that has gone into developing this and more, we tend to jump on our bikes every weekend or more often if we’re lucky, and hit the forest trails for our fix of nature and exercise. BUT … with all this technology are we really escaping modern life? So far, I’ve been content to let hubby navigate via his GPS because this enables me to focus on the environment (and staying upright on my bike).

 

But recently I acquired a Garmin Edge 520, and hmmmm….. I have to learn how to use it. The first step being to find the on / off button, and decipher the teeny tiny icons that decorate the screen. Setting it up with my personal profile (“what …. why does it need to know how tall I am?”) and then being able to consistently turn it on, get to the application I want to use, save the ride, download it to an even bigger device and analyse the stats.

Hmmmm …. well, the first time I rode alone, I managed to successfully attach it to my bike, turn it on and select my training program. It only took half an hour(!) Yes, that’s half my ride time gone already. I heard that inner voice tell me I’m stupid, it’s stupid, whoever invented this was stupid, why don’t they make things with logical users in mind. I even had a thought about throwing it away!

But I also heard ANOTHER voice tell me I just need to practise, get to know it, step into the space of being a learner rather than a technophobe, give myself time, take my own path to learning rather than expecting myself to follow someone else’s learning path.

And what do you know?! This little infernal gadget was actually pretty fun to have on board! I got to challenge myself to work harder based on heart rate, distance, time and cadence. I got to save it, view my ride map and can compare my improvements over time. I can pre-set rides or follow maps as I go. I’ll be more confident to go on rides alone or with others who don’t have GPS devices (just in case getting lost comes into the picture!).

Technophobe or not, it really doesn’t matter. If you have the desire to take something on board, you can, with persistence and practice; and create that extra bit of fun you didn’t know you could have!