2020 has many of us feeling on edge, and if the pandemic wasn’t enough, 70% of respondents recently declared that the elections are also a major source of anxiety. With the election this week, psychologists list many ways in which we can reduce levels of stress and, well, we have a firm favorite. Muscle tension, blood pressure, and brain activity are all regulated within minutes, cortisol levels drop while dopamine and endorphins’ production increases—and all of this without a prescription. If this scientifically proven remedy sounds too good to be true, the best you can do is try it for yourself: use exposure to nature to fight anxiety.
Scientists agree that spending more time outdoors is key to wellbeing and some suspect that the human brain responds particularly well to what’s been dubbed “forest bathing.” In his book, Dr. Qing Li claims that this traditional Japanese pastime is the most effective in the fight with anxiety and points out that conifers have a particularly soothing effect on us. Luckily, you don’t need to drive to Yosemite to get your dose of medicine, as any wooded area will do, including a suburban trail or even a city center park.
To get more than just a little boost in your mood, spending a whole night in the outdoors is a sure way to reset and leave stress behind. It can be a family affair, or for those craving more tranquility, a solitary retreat into the wild. As the weather turns colder, camping becomes a little more demanding in terms of preparation and gear. Good planning is key and for less experienced outdoor enthusiasts, car-camping might be the best option. With plenty of good food, extra blankets, warm clothing, waterproofs, etc. stashed in the car, a night under the stars will be soothing and stress-free.
(Important: before leaving, check if your chosen campsite is open during the pandemic, or research the restrictions on wild camping in your chosen area.)
Spending a night in the outdoors, be it in a tent or gazing up at the night sky from a bivvy bag, has the added benefit of a radical change of scenery. A break in the routine makes it easier to forget about politics, the virus, work pressures and paying the bills. Occupied with taking in what’s in front of us, we are more likely to stay in the moment and stop worrying about things that we cannot change. Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword these days but some catchphrases do have merit to them — in this case, it is confirmed by science.
Whether you can only afford to take a lunchtime walk or spend a whole weekend outdoors, to maximize the anti-stress effects, consider putting your phone in flight mode. Being constantly plugged to the news cycle cannot change the future but taking time off to reduce your anxiety levels is sure to pay dividends.