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Mental Health

4 Easy Ways to Spend Time in Nature to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

You love the springtime, but your inner critic convinces you that taking a break from your to-do’s to go outside would be unproductive. Yet nothing could be further from the truth: Simply walking a tree-lined trail for a few minutes is shown to dial up relaxing alpha brain waves, boosting creativity and problemsolving skills. What’s more, spending time in nature reduces stress and quashes anxiety, a phenomenon called “soft fascination.”

Read on for easy ways to let nature’s splendors wash away your worries and lift your spirits!

Let the grass tickle your feet if you feel burned out.

The next time you can’t possibly do one more load of laundry or read another email, take off your shoes, step onto your lawn and walk barefoot, advises psychotherapist Jodie Stein. “Moving your toes along the grass activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming you down instantly.”

This soothing activity is called “grounding” because it helps us reconnect to Mother Earth, says Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, co-author of Earthing (Buy from Amazon, $12.04). “Walking barefoot for 10 minutes puts your skin in touch with the ground,” he explains, “helping your body absorb electrons that improve your immune system, decrease rates of depression and boost energy.”

Look up at the stars if you feel lonely.

Simply gazing at the stars on a warm spring night thwarts loneliness, says ecotherapist Daniel Dryden. That’s because awe triggers the “small-self effect,” the sensation that we are part of a larger whole — a feeling that not only shrinks our worries, it makes us feel closer to and more compassionate toward others.

“To enhance the mood-boosting effects of star-gazing, try to discern shapes or constellations in the night sky, because looking for patterns engages the rational side of the brain, calming worries,” says Dryden. In fact, one study found that 15 minutes of stargazing significantly decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Try ‘allurement wandering’ if you feel bored or listless.

If your days feel monotonous, discover inspiration in “allurement wandering,” encourages psychologist Jami Grich. Simply take 15 minutes to notice which aspects of nature pique your interest, from a bluebird proudly perched on a branch to a daffodil trumpeting its charms.

While stress shrinks our field of view, giving us tunnel vision, looking for joy without a set plan, or wandering into wonder, sparks joy by stimulating our brain with novelty and the unexpected. Says Grich, “Observing small marvels in nature unleashes creativity and deepens humility — both of which are shown to nudge us out of a rut by making life feel fresh again.”

Connect with the water if you feel anxious.

Just listening to a babbling brook or gazing at a picture of the ocean lowers blood pressure and restores peace of mind. “Water elicits ‘blue mind,’ a meditative state that shifts our neurochemistry and fosters calm,” says biologist Wallace Nichols, PhD, author of Blue Mind (Buy from Amazon, 10.44).

To soak up the benefits, simply take a shower or enjoy a relaxing bath for 10 minutes. Or consider going for a stroll after a spring rain: Studies show negative ions in water droplets lingering in the air trigger the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, melting tension and lifting our mood. (Click through to see how time in nature lowers cortisol in the morning.)

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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