There’s a lot of money and energy spent on stress-relief. So it’s surprising to discover that one of the most effective remedies is also one of the simplest, 100% natural, and absolutely free.
And when I say 100% natural, I mean it, because I’m talking about nature itself!
That’s right. One of the most effective cures for stress is nature. And while you may be aware of the cardiovascular benefits of going for a walk in open air, you may not yet know about a more subtle, yet quite profound, benefit of being in the outdoors.
But before we look at nature’s healing properties, let’s consider where a lot of the stress comes from in life. Stress arises when there is a discrepancy, or difference, between ourselves and our environment. Psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance,” and it could take the form of a conflict between what we want and what we get, what we expect and what occurs, our vision of ourselves and what other people think, or any of the challenges that create friction in the mind.
When we experience cognitive dissonance, our mind kicks into gear, searching for a solution. Many times the mind can successfully resolve cognitive dissonance, though it can take a great deal of effort. At other times the mind is so overwhelmed that it enters an endless loop of thinking which actually increases feelings of stress.
So, we are in a curios position. For, while stress is many times a product of too much thinking, many methods designed to reduce stress involve more thinking. So, what to do?
Enter nature. For, while exercise at the gym may give you a break from thinking as you sweat, nature has an added component that helps the mind snap out of its pattern of stress. This component is its apparent randomness.
Hold on, the skeptic might ask. How can the apparent chaos that we find in a forest or a stream help calm down a troubled mind?
Well, the answer is that natural environments contain an apparent chaos that obscures a deeper order. To the human eye there may be little pattern to the fall of leaves and piles of pebbles strewn across a path. However, the chaos obscures the subtle interplay of forces such as gravity, the seasons, erosion, and wind and rain.
This apparent chaos, coupled with underlying order, provides a recuperative environment for the burdened mind. The patterns we encounter, subtle though they may be, return us to a state of “cognitive resonance” between the internal and external landscape. Let’s take a moment to consider how this works.
In a stressed state the mind tries to reconcile cognitive dissonance by using the same thought patterns that actually created the dissonance. In the natural environment we receive new stimuli that break up the thought patterns that created dissonance. While we could use any distraction to interrupt our thought patterns, natural environments contain rhythms that resonate with each other. The movement of wind in the trees, the play of shadows on the forest floor, and the sound of a bubbling brook are parts of create a cohesive environment. Each of these elements works together to create the experience called “nature.” As a result, they have a natural harmony, or resonance, with each other.
When we encounter this natural resonance, the mind is given two profound healing opportunities. First, it is given an interruption from thinking, which itself is beneficial. In addition, it has the experience of natural resonance that can help reset the mind into its own patterns of resonance.. And while this healing may lie beyond words, countless people have experienced its benefit.
So, the next time you feel stressed, consider a walk in nature and watch as your mind naturally unwinds into a peaceful state. To enjoy the benefits of nature, consider these 3 tips:
1. Sit peacefully in a quiet space, whether your garden, a park, or a forest. Let your senses unfold into the sights, smells, sounds, and feel of the space. As you reflect on the scene around you, notice any changes in your thoughts. Move back and forth between awareness of nature and awareness of your thoughts.
2. When walking outdoors, mix up your pace to increase your awareness. Walk a little slower at times, a little faster at other times. This will help you tune into the environment around you.
3. When you don’t have time to enjoy nature, appreciate the beauty of the human-made world. Notice qualities of objects that are unique, even if imperfect. Your sensory capacity will grow, the next time you are in nature you will be more aware, and you will be more present in your current environment.