5 Ways to Manage Anxiety: Build Your Relationship with the Outdoors
Kylie Gumpert, Promotions & Outreach Coordinator
Kylie is an Omaha, Nebraska native who discovered her love for and connection to nature while roaming the prairies and woodlands on her grandparent’s acreage in Crescent, Iowa. She’s a passionate, curious storyteller who enjoys discovering powerful ways to inform and inspire the public. With her background in journalism, marketing and service, she's excited to learn more about conservation efforts and inspire our community to get involved.
As newbie hikers, Kylie and her fiancé Matt love to take their pup Maisel out to explore the wilderness with them. She hopes you make time to get out to Pottawattamie parks, connect with our environment and learn something new!
Did you know? Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the U.S., with almost 1 in 5 adults (40 million people) living with general or social anxiety, panic attacks, or phobias.
For those with anxiety, the world can look like a much darker, scarier place. Thankfully, something as simple as the time we spend observing and engaging with natural areas helps remind even the most anxious of us what joy, beauty, and wonder the world beholds.
Let's start this blog post off with a nice mental exercise, which involves a trip down your memory lane:
First, we ask that you make a mental note of how you are feeling today. Think about any emotions you’ve experienced and the way you are feeling physically.
Now we ask that you pause, maybe close your eyes, and try to think of a time when you felt close to nature. “Close to nature” will mean something different from one person to another.
Have it? Now take an extra moment to let your memory replay in your mind. What did you see? What did it feel like?
Open your eyes and take a deep breath. How do you feel?
How about after watching some of the video below?
For many people, their most powerful memories of them being “close to nature” are physical and mental experiences where they felt blissful, in awe, and maybe even said, “Wooooooow” (perhaps while marveling at a gorgeous natural view!). What’s becoming better and better understood is the link between health and our connection to and time spent in nature.
Study after study is finding that time spent outdoors, especially combined with physical activity including walking, running, camping, and climbing, can:
Improve physical and mental health,
Increase focus and memory,
Increase confidence and self-esteem,
Speed up healing,
Increase feelings of gratitude and awe,
Reduce symptoms of trauma and addiction, and
Support creativity and life satisfaction.
And while your own backyard or neighborhood park can do the trick, people report feeling even more restored and connected after engaging with natural areas that have higher biodiversity, such as rural or protected areas and parks.
What’s not completely understood is why these benefits occur. There are many theories, including:
The biophilia hypothesis: Because our ancestors evolved in the wild and relied on the environment for their survival, we feel an innate connection to it. Essentially, it is in our DNA.
The stress reduction hypothesis: Due to this ancestral tie to our environment, theorists propose that time spent outside triggers the physiological changes we experience, like decreasing heart rate and blood pressure, that lower our stress levels. Urban areas are considered excessively stimulating which is more likely to increase stress response and cause negative health effects.
Attention restoration theory: How often is it that you give your brain a break? Especially with digital devices, many of us are processing information almost every waking moment of every day. Connecting with our environment is seen as one of the best ways to allow our minds to effortlessly wander (“soft fascination”), which restores cognitive function and improves focus and attention.
No matter the reason, we think it’s safe to say that Mother Nature is behind it. After all, if our environment dictates our ability to live happier, healthier, and more meaningful lives, then we would do what we can to protect it, right?
Here are just a few ideas to get you outside and engaging with the natural world around you more often. After all, it might be just what your doctor orders.
Start a garden and tend to it. Patio, windowsill and indoor gardens count as well!
Take your lunch break outside. While you're at it, host your next family or friendly gathering outside too.
Go camping. More of a glamper? Challenge yourself to live with less for one night of camping. You might learn something new about yourself and the world around you.
Go on a walk or hike without an agenda. Pick trails, paths, or streets just for fun. You might be delighted by what you discover when you turn your "planning" brain off for a while.
About our “Healing Home” series: What does “home” mean to you? It’s so much more than the roof over your head. Home is the body you wake up in each morning, the mind that sometimes keeps you up at night, and the land that provides everything you might need in between. Pottawattamie Conservation’s “Healing Home” series aims to inspire hope and healing so that you can strengthen your relationship with your body, mind, and the natural world around you. Join us today and learn how interconnected your health is to the health of your environment.