10 Natural Ways to Relieve Stress Without Negative Side Effects

Natural Ways to Relieve Stress

Modern life is stressful. The American Institute of Stress reports that more than 70% of Americans surveyed say stress affects their physical and mental health. To calm stress, too many people reach for anti-anxiety pills, alcohol, or drugs like marijuana. But these all come with a host of side effects that can harm the brain and lead to other problems. Taking care of your brain and body health means soberly accepting this fact, and consciously working to mitigate the effects of stress by finding activities that naturally relieve it. While that may sound like a chore, it’s actually easier than you think.

You may be surprised to discover one panacea for stress reduction that is so accessible, universally enjoyed, and simple, you may have overlooked it: Nature. Click To Tweet

You may be surprised to discover one panacea for stress reduction that is so accessible, universally enjoyed, and simple, you may have overlooked it: Nature. It turns out that connecting with nature in any form—whether you spend time there, listen to its sounds, bring it into your home, watch it in a video, or simply look at a picture of it—calms the body and uplifts the spirit. Best of all, it’s free and there are no negative side effects.

THE SOOTHING POWER OF NATURE

When we are chronically stressed, our sympathetic nervous system activates the fight-or-flight stress response, which serves to protect us from life-threatening danger. The response releases a host of stress hormones that allow us to react quickly and get to safety. However, this response is now being activated continuously by modern life stressors such as traffic congestion, multiple distractions, work pressure, family problems, the current pandemic, natural disasters, and political unrest. High levels of stress hormones are not good for health.

Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure and promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits. It also causes brain changes, according to a 2014 study in Molecular Psychiatry, that may contribute to anxiety, mood disorders, or addiction.

One solution to the stress problem is to engage in activities that turn off the sympathetic nervous system and turn on the parasympathetic system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls bodily functions when a person is at rest. Some of its activities include stimulating digestion, activating metabolism, and helping the body relax.

That’s where nature comes in. Roughly a decade ago, a significant Japanese study recognized that because humankind spent more than 99.99% of its evolutionary history in natural environments, being in nature might have restorative effects. The study followed 420 subjects at 35 different forests throughout Japan. The results were remarkable. Stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rates decreased. The parasympathetic nervous system activity increased by 55%, indicating a relaxed state. And activity in natural killer cells involved in the immune system increased by 56%, indicating stronger immune function. The published study caught the attention of public health experts around the world.

Since that time, many more studies have been conducted confirming nature’s positive impact on health. One study showed that subjects who simply viewed awe-inspiring images of nature were more likely to do kind acts for others and had a more expansive experience of time, which is a sign of well-being.

A study from earlier this year involving 20,000 people found that people who spent at least 2 hours (all at once or parceled out over several visits) a week in green spaces, such as local parks or other natural environments, were considerably more likely to report psychological well-being and good health than those who don’t.

Here are 10 simple ways to get a little more nature into your life.

10 WAYS TO ENGAGE WITH NATURE AND REDUCE STRESS

1. Add plants and nature pictures to your space.

Whether you’re at the office or home, adding plants and/or pictures of nature may calm your stress. In one study, people who looked at real plants or posters of plants experienced less stress waiting for medical procedures.

2. Listen to nature sounds.

Listening to the sounds of nature may reduce your stress, whether that is live or a recording. One randomized controlled trial recognized stress-reducing effects from listening to water sounds.

3. Take a walk in the park.

Yes, believe it or not, a simple walk in the local park can take your stress levels down.

Research in Behavioral Sciences shows that even short-term visits to urban nature areas have a positive effect on stress. If you can get to an urban woodland area, the positive effects are even better!

4. Watch a nature show or video.

If you can’t get out in nature, watch a nature show or video. A study that involved 120 participants watching videos of awe-inspiring nature showed signs of parasympathetic system activation.

5. Walk on the beach.

You don’t need someone to tell you that a walk near the ocean or a lake will make you feel good, but science indicates this is true. A 2020 study showed that short, frequent walks in blue spaces may have a positive effect on people’s well-being and mood.

6. Look to the birds.

It’s not just nature, but seeing animals in nature makes you feel good too. People living in areas with more birds, shrubs, and trees are less prone to suffer from depression, anxious feelings, and stress, according to research published in BioScience.

7. Swim in the ocean.

Assuming the conditions are safe, swimming in the ocean has been shown to be a boon to health, especially if it is done in a swimming group. An Australian study showed that in addition to the social bonding benefit of ocean swimming in a group, it enhanced health and well-being, and supports the development of self-efficacy and resilience. The authors wrote that swimming groups are “a lot better than medicine.”

8. Get awe-inspired.

Whether it’s looking up at the stars on a clear night or at half-dome on a visit to Yosemite, an awe-inspiring nature experience is good for you in multiple ways. A 2015 study involving Berkeley students showed that those who had experienced awe had the lowest levels of interleukin-6, which has been linked to inflammation, which when chronic can be a sign of stress or bad health.

9. Enjoy flowers.

There’s a reason we give and receive flowers. The beauty and scent of nature’s flowers, especially placed in the home, provide immediate and long-term positive emotional responses, including mood-elevating benefits, enriching social behaviors, and even boosting memory in both males and females, according to a Rutgers University study.  The study went as far as to claim, “Flowers may be the plant equivalent of companion animals.”

10. Open a window.

Open your windows and let in the fresh, clean air! High concentrations of negative ions are found in natural, clean air. Ions are invisible charged particles in the air—either molecules or atoms, which bear an electric charge. Research in BMC Psychiatry shows that they are associated with a reduction in depressive symptoms in some people.

Even though we live and work in structures and cities that separate us from nature, it is still our original home. Seek out nature and it will reward you with its restorative benefits!

Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues related to chronic stress can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

9 Comments »

  1. Funny as I read this and look around my home I see all those reminders of nature mentioned in the article that I love.

    Photos of the natural settings, places that I’ve visited, indoor plants, outdoor gardens and trees planted, bird feeders that attract birds and other wildlife. My wife kids me that I have taken more photos of plants, animals, water and mountains than of people.

    Our dogs, waking me up early every morning eager to take a hike at one of our local parks.

    Seeing the sunrise and how it colors the clouds some mornings with red and orange pastels is such a blessing!

    I know that I naturally gravitate towards the things that bring me peace.

    Over my work bench is this quote “Make time for quiet moments, as God whispers and the world is loud” not sure who first observed this is but it’s so true.

    Thanks for the great article!

    Comment by John — December 17, 2021 @ 4:02 AM

  2. I have called the AMEN Clinic several times for my mom and fr myself. I have been feeling unusual levels of anxiety and depression lately and know that this article has been very inspiring. I hope to take the time to get an evaluation of my brain health in 2022. I really value the work of Dr Amen and his team. Joann

    Comment by Joann Davis — December 17, 2021 @ 4:45 AM

  3. Absolutely true. Dr Amen.
    I am a Professional fine arts painter.
    I have lived among mountains , trees , flowers, plants, clouds, the beautiful oceans and breezes of the Caribbean. …looking at Nature’s wonders day after day. I would now be insane had it not been for the beauty and wonders of God’ world…and having the gift and blessing of participating in so much visual beauty.
    Thank you Dr. Amen.

    Comment by Angela Staples — December 17, 2021 @ 5:57 AM

  4. Good morning and thank you for another great article.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — December 17, 2021 @ 6:04 AM

  5. I’ve been dealing with a lot of high stress issues lately and need relief.

    Comment by Michael Dykeman — December 17, 2021 @ 6:24 AM

  6. Just this morning, I took time to watch a bird trying to remove ribbon threads from washing-on-line – fascinating to observe the tenacity; easy to feel inspired by that scene!

    Comment by Dee McKerrow — December 17, 2021 @ 8:17 PM

  7. A good night’s Sleep is actually the NUMBER ONE way to relieve stress. But is has to be 8 hrs or more, long, on a regular daily basis, and you can’t take yohr worries to bed with you–mind has to be a blank sheet. COST: FREE.

    Comment by Neil R. Grobman — December 18, 2021 @ 12:55 PM

  8. Hello Joann, thank you for reaching out. We would be happy to reach out to you directly with more information regarding scheduling an appointment for yourself and your mother at one of our 9 clinics. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — December 20, 2021 @ 3:50 PM

  9. Hello Michael, thank you for reaching out. We would be happy to reach out to you directly with more information regarding scheduling an appointment at one of our 9 clinics. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — December 20, 2021 @ 3:54 PM

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