(Courtesy: Miami-Dade Parks)
Our culture tends to function in overdrive. Nonstop noise, activities and stimulation seem to be a regular part of our lives. While some people choose to live a life that’s busy, many of us helplessly find ourselves being overworked and overstressed.
When someone complains that they need a vacation, chances are they are not exaggerating! According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), 73 percent of people regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. Symptoms like: irritability, anger, nervousness and lack of energy. Unfortunately, the repercussions don’t stop there. AIS found that 48 percent of those surveyed said that stress also had a negative effect on their personal and professional lives. The American Psychological Association found that stress caused health problems in 43 percent of adults. The study also reveals stress-related complaints make up 75 to 90 percent of all doctor visits, and can even impair cognitive functioning.
If some level of stress is simply part of this modern era, we owe it to ourselves to find ways to restore our bodies, both physically and mentally. Weekly massages and regular Key West getaways would be fantastic, but they’re not necessarily practical for most. More than 50 percent of employees are stressed out about personal finances and 45 percent of them cited financial matters as the biggest stressors in their lives, according to a 2016 PwC Employee Financial Well- ness survey.
Fortunately, nature and a Miami-Dade park are powerful antidotes for stress and they are free!
Totally Natural Nerve Tonic
A number of studies have shown that nature can help us de-stress. For example, researchers from Nippon Medical School found that after subjects gazed at a forest landscape or walked in a forest, their pulse rates, blood pressure and cortisol concentrations significantly decreased. Another Japanese survey found that exposure to forest environments significantly lessens hostility and depression while increasing feelings of liveliness, when compared with exposure to other environments. In a Stanford University study, researchers sent one group of people on a 90-minute walk along a roadway and another into a natural area of the Stanford campus for the same length of time. Questionnaires and brain scans comparing the two groups showed that those walking in nature experienced a decrease in rumination, which in this context was defined as a pattern of repetitive negative thoughts that are related to an increased risk of depression.
Nature also seems to have some positive psychological effects over the long haul. Published in Environment and Behavior in 2003, a study of New York children ages three to five found that those who lived in very natural environments were “buffered” from the impact of stressful life events they experienced, as measured by parent evaluations of their children’s distress, and by the children’s own perceptions of psychological well-being. Ultimate- ly, research suggests that nature has the power to heal and strengthen on a psychological level.
More is More – and Also Less
When it comes to finding the right spot for natural stress busting, make it as fully natural as possible. It’s easy to find an open, green space near you, discover Miami-Dade Parks Nature-Based Activities and search for one. A Helfgott Research Institute study comparing people sitting in four different environments with varying degrees of naturalness found that it was in the fully natural environment which people experienced the greatest feelings of restoration. Measurements of cortisol levels showed that the more natural the environment the greater the reductions in body cortisol.
Bottom line: The more nature, the better! While more is better in terms of the environment you choose, less can also be good. As little as five minutes of exposure to nature may deliver the soothingly therapeutic effect you’re craving. According to a 2010 Environmental Science & Technology study of people exercising outdoors in nature, the first five minutes yielded the greatest bene- fits, including an increase in self-esteem.
Another thing to keep in mind is that nature’s calming effect can ripple outward into other areas of your life. When stress levels drop, physical health improves, concentration and work performance increases, and relationships are enriched.
So the next time you find yourself telling someone how badly you need a vacation – or before that thought even crosses your mind – do yourself the favor of heading to the nearest park for a short retreat. You might discover a serenity you never imagined was possible.
Above content provided by Parks-Foundation of Miami-Dade and Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation