Spending Time Outside Reduces Stress

Ryleigh Stearns

Interdisciplinary Studies Major

RA final draft

Stress is an emotion that people deal with in their lives every single day. No matter what we do, we cannot escape it. There are so many ways of dealing with stress, weather it is negative or positive. I have had the pleasure of being a hard working college student for four years now. Although many experiences I have had have been nothing but memorable, stress is something that controls my body a majority of the time attending university. In order to properly deal with my stress, I asked myself what I really enjoy doing on my days off. The answer was simple. Being outside whether it is walking, kayaking, hiking, or just lying out and soaking up the rays from the sun. By being outside, I do not feel stressed. Feeling the breeze and the warmth from the sun on my skin, the stress just seems to go away. So then I thought, does being outside actually aid in relieving stress?DCIM100GOPRO

To begin my research, I wanted to start at a young age. It is crucial to understand the importance of recess and outdoor play for children in primary school. I remember how exciting it was to be able to go outside and release my energy as a child. After sitting in a classroom for more than a few hours, the brain is unable to retain more information without a proper break.

“Research shows us that many of the fundamental tasks that children must achieve, such as exploring, risk taking, fine and gross motor development, and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge, can be most effectively learned through outdoor play” (Edgar L., p.4).

Outdoor play for children, allows them to learn while doing. By being able to do things hands on, the mind can better retain the tasks at hand. During the first three years of life, there are more neural pathways in the brain. Physical activity also exercises the brain. When comparinfc929-246_1l40895_children_playingg physical activity to seat-work, seat-work actually lowers brain concentration and increases feelings of fatigue. I found this interesting because a majority of learning environments are inside sitting at a desk.

With that being said, many schools are beginning to take away recess and outdoor play in order for students to focus more on academics. This poses a huge problem because these children will not be able to exercise their bodies and minds five out of seven days of the week. Sitting and attempting to learn for eight hours straight will put children’s stress levels at an all-new high.

“Getting children outside more benefits the children not only physically, but also allows the brain to recharge which, should produce greater results academically, socially, and cognitively” (Edgar L., p. 6).

This also encourages children to live a sedentary lifestyle. With many advances in technology, children are becoming more tempted to stay inside where their electronics are. With this new age of technology, television, video games, social media and cell phones are taking over, while outdoor play is becoming a thing of the past.

Overall, outdoor play should be introduced at a very young age. At the ages of 3-9 months old, infants are beginning to listen and recognize noises outside. They also begin to experience weather, smells, colors and touch. They are able to distinguish what being outside smells and feels like. At the ages of 10-14 months old, outdoor play reduces stress, fear and anxiety within the children. They begin to make choices on their own as well as have an overwhelming feeling of joy. Being active outside also allows children of this age to work on their balance and flexibility, increase their physical health and endurance, and increase the strength of their immune system.

I found an interesting topic that I have never heard of before that related to my research. “Forest bathing” is an interesting take on de-stressing in the woods. Forest bathing is literally taking walks in the woods in order to help de-stress. This practice was first founded and studies in Japan where there have been groups of people that have volunteered to go for walks in the woods and record their vital signs and signs of stress IMG_6682before and after the activity. The author of the article A Walk in the Woods, by A. Phillips, wanted to experience this practice for himself. For each day of the month of April, Phillips went for a nature walk. He did this for more than an hour a day and would tend to visit areas of serenity such as a waterfall or river. He recorded his finding and reported feeling “better” after this forest bathing session. He also felt more relaxed, calm and had a clearer mind overall after the month of April.

Phillips really touched on the importance of being out in the woods and how it even helps the body heal.

“One of the first and most well-known studies, published in Science by Richard S Ulrich in 1984, found that patients recovering from surgery in rooms with a window facing a natural setting had shorter hospital stays and took less pain medication than did patients whose window faced a brick wall” (A. Phillips p. 301).

The research behind forest bathing showed us that the blood pressure of subjects who went for a walk within the forest were lower than previously recorded. It was also found that levels of DHEA-S were increased within the body. DHEA-S contributes to a healthy heart. There was also an increase in activity of the peripheral nervous system. The PNS is responsible for the “rest and digest” response in the body. The activity of the sympathetic nervous system was recorded to be generally lower in the subjects that participated in the forest bathing. The SNS is responsible for the “fight or flight” response within the body. The activity of the SNS is usually spiked when you are put into a stressful situation. Lower activity of the SNS also decreases the amount of the adrenal hormone, cortisol, to be produced. Cortisol is a hormone that is most often associated with stress, for it is released when the body is feeling stressed.

This study had all of the right data to help prove that activity outdoors aids in combating stress. Stress has a physical and emotional response and by recording vital signs and hormone levels and comparing their before and after, we can see that forest bathing, or going for a walk in the woods, can actually lower levels of stress. With the large amount of urbanization happening across the world, nature walks are becoming more rare and hard to obtain. That is one flaw that I noticed with forest bathing. Taking a walk in a forest like setting versus walking in an urban setting did not show the same results. People who walked in an urban setting did not show a large enough change in vital signs or cortisol levels. I believe it is important to take note on the fact that there is some very valuable research here. This study proves that there is evidence that being outdoors aids in reducing stress.

It amazes me that something as simple as nature can have such a large impact on your overall health. I came across this article online titled How the Simple Act of Nature Helps you De-stress. This article brought many things to my attention that I really did not think of before. Exercising outdoors allows you to disconnect from your mobile devices and focus more on yourself. Personally, I see people consumed by their cell phones each and everyday. Living a day or a few hours without your phone causes major anxiety in some people and has become a necessity in our lives. Social media like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and more have the ability to consume and take over lives. Social media harbors cyber bullying, self-esteem issues and lies.

Not only does activity outside keep you away from your phone, it keeps your from breathing in recycled air constantly. A lot of times you will hear more people saying that they typically get sick in the wintertime versus a time of nice weather. This has a lot to do with the lower amount of activity that takes place during the cold winter months. People are more apt to stay indoors when the weather is not ideal so this leads to breathing in more recycled air and germs that are within the home environment.

“Being outdoors in generally associated with activity, and being physically active keeps joints loose and helps with chronic pain and stiffness” (Jay Lee).

The most important information I will take away from this article is that nature helps reduce fatigue and stress and relieve depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety have become serious epidemics worldwide. Medication is offered for this but is usually seen as a last resort due to side effects. If there is such a way to prevent medication, like getting outdoors more, it is important to make more people aware.

Overall health of the human body is something I have always been interested about. Previously, I have done research about stress and the impact it can have on a person. Stress can come in all shapes and sizes and at any time of your life. It does not always come at convenient times. Often it seems to happen at the most inconvenient 2018-02-24 10:30:24.074time in your life. Because I feel so passionately about the topic of stress, I did my applied project on a related topic as well. For my applied project, I focused on the stress levels and coping mechanisms of students in university. I will link the post here. What I had found was that there was an overwhelming amount of students who felt stressed a majority of the days of the week and the stress was not minor, it was quite severe. The two most common causes of stress among the sample group were school and homework. I then looked at what coping mechanisms were popular amongst the group. I found that sleeping, eating and substance abuse were some of the most popular answers. I did not find this surprising because being a college student; I understand the stress that is bestowed upon us every day. Peer pressure encourages you to practice negative coping mechanisms such as drinking alcohol and doing drugs. I would like to think that if more students spent their time outside on nice days and not in the classroom, the stress levels would decrease.Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 2.25.54 PM.png

The main reason I wanted to research about this topic is because of my deep love and history of nature. From a young age, my parents exposed my sister and I to nature in a variety of ways. From the time I was born, my parents took me on camping trips throughout the seasons of spring, summer and fall. We started out in tents, snuggling close for warmth during the colder nights. Camping has become a tradition in my family because of them. We camp as a family to get away from working, school, and negative energy from being in the same place too often. Camping allows us to spend time as a family, away from technology for weeks on end. I often found that my family would take more adventurous ideas together like hiking a hard trail or exploring a new part of a state together. We are outside 90% of the days that we are there and that has much to do with our low stress levels.12805794_10207917379148937_5704711410796441848_n

Because of my love for the great outdoors, I want to be outside more often each day even if it is only for ten minutes. Whether it is going for a short run, a long hike, sun bathing, or walking my dog, I cherish that time equally. I find that doing homework outside on a nice day helps me think more clearly and openly. There is nothing more relaxing than hearing the leaves rustle on the ground when a strong breeze rolls by or listening to the melody of chirping birds in the trees. Nature is all around you and is a natural coping mechanism for stress.

I thought it would be interesting to ask around and see what other people thought of this topic. Because I live with three other people, it would be easy to hear their opinions. I asked my first roommate if she thought spending time outside reduced her stress. Her immediate response was “YES!” Her stress level is typically high and any chance she gets; she tries to do things outside like attend baseball games. I asked my second roommate the same question and I already knew her answer. Anytime she is home, she is outside lying on the porch or sitting in her hammock getting her schoolwork done. She surrounds herself and her room with plants and even a sound machine to mimic the noises of being outside. She even works on a farm, picking produce and selling to people at a farm stand. She lives her life mainly outside and completely agrees that spending time with nature reduces stress. I asked my final roommate what he thought about this topic. He is one that loves to play video games in his free time but does not allow himself to get too caught up with technology. He always makes an attempt to get outdoors even if it is for a few minutes. He even just enjoys walking to class on a nice day and enjoying the view of campus. My roommates and I do not agree on everything, but we can all agree that being able to spend time outside reduces our stress levels.

The topic of being outdoors and reducing stress includes many different disciplines. In the beginning of my research paper, I discussed the importance of outdoor play for children. This ties into early education. Many other disciplines are discussed including nursing, forestry, human health, mental health, elementary education, physical education, and health medicine. It is important to monitor stress at all ages and introduce outdoor play to children right away. Based off of my research, personal and interpersonal experiences, I have come to the conclusion that being outdoors does in fact reduce stress. “Get outside. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel big or tiny? Because there’s something good about feeling both” (Amy Grant).IMG_8798.JPG

 

Sources:

Martin, C. (2017). Children, mobile phones and outdoor play. Policy Press. doi:10.1332/policypress/9781447330035.003.0010

The science behind why nature makes you happier and healthier. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/how-nature-can-solve-life-s-most-challenging-problems-ncna749361

Annerstedt, M., Norman, J., Boman, M., Mattsson, L., Grahn, P., & Währborg, P. (2010). Finding stress relief in a forest. Ecological Bulletins, (53), 33-42. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.plymouth.edu/stable/41442017

McKenzie, T., & Kahan, D. (2008). Physical Activity, Public Health, and Elementary Schools. The Elementary School Journal, 108(3), 171-180. doi:10.1086/529100

Phillips, A. (2011). A Walk in the Woods: Evidence builds that time spent in the natural world benefits human health. American Scientist, 99(4), 301-302. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.plymouth.edu/stable/23019378

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