Ask Dr. Julie / Health / Health & Wellness

Stressed Out? Take a Hike, Literally

womenwalkingpixabayThere’s no question that many of us feel stress from time to time, whether it’s from hectic work schedules or the hustle and bustle of daily life.  With the holidays looming ahead of us, it’s no wonder stress levels can be at an all time high. Stress brings with it a number of ugly side effects, such as poor diet and sleep, anxiety or restlessness. I often remind my patients at my clinic of integrative medicine that feeling stress is normal, but should always be managed with plenty of leisurely or relaxing activities in between.

Oftentimes we don’t realize one of the best ways to de-stress is right outside our front door—spending time in nature is not only beneficial for your health, but is proven to help reduce stress and anxiety and can even help improve your sleep and diet. I know that with the cooler weather, many of us don’t want to head outdoors, but if you bundle up and make sure you don’t stay out too long and keep to daylight hours to stay safe, being out in nature can still be a good thing. Best of all, it’s always accessible; even if you live in an urban area, it is possible to carve out time in your daily schedule to simply go outside and take a breath of fresh air. Implement these tips into your daily schedule to get yourself in the habit of powering off distractions and stress and going out into nature to relax.

1. Do things you’d normally do inside outdoors: If you’re in the habit of eating lunch at your desk while you work or going to the gym for a run, switch up your routine and take advantage of nature around you. Take a stroll to the nearest park or green space near your work and enjoy lunch outdoors. Not only will nature give you a calming break from the demands of work, it may even give you an added boost of energy to work productively throughout the day. Plus, finding a green space near work to walk to and from is a great way to get exercise and much-needed Vitamin D from the sun. Take advantage of summer’s warm weather and move your workout to the park or even in your neighborhood. Many gyms offer outdoor alternatives when the weather cooperates, such as outdoor yoga and group runs in parks.

2. Go for a walk, not a coffee: If you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, look past the vending machines or your nearest coffee shop. Although coffee and snacks may seem like the right choices when you are slowing down mid-workday, they won’t give you the rush of energy that exercise and fresh air will. We often choose sugary drinks or snacks that end up bogging us down instead of giving us energy to get through the day. Try to take a power walk around the neighborhood or the building you work in, or take the stairs to your office to increase circulation and heart rate. Getting fresh air can clear your mind and allow you to sharpen your focus once you’re back at work. Listen to your favorite music on your stroll to pump you full of good tunes and energy.

3. Meditate in nature: Meditation can be one of the most effective forms of therapy for stress and anxiety. Meditating in nature can be even more rewarding, as natural sounds and landscapes lend themselves well to relaxation and peacefulness. If you’re new to meditation, don’t feel intimidated; meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly in one place and taking deep breaths. Try to concentrate your energy on what is directly around you and remove your focus from your responsibilities, your workload, and any other stresses. Take evenly paced breaths and try to maintain this focus for as long as you can. Don’t feel discouraged if you can only keep your concentration for a minute or two. Take a second to regroup yourself and try again. By simply concentrating on your breath work and the nature around you, distractions and stress will move to the back of your mind.

4. Ditch the electronics: Our devices and electronics help us communicate for work and leisure, yet are hindrances when it comes to reducing stress. Being constantly inundated by emails, text messages and social media can make separating yourself from your phone quite difficult, but remind yourself that constantly being updated could be what’s standing between you and stress reduction. Though it may sound impossible at first, try to go on a hike or run without music. Switch your concentration to your activity and take in the noises around you, the pace of your breath, and your thoughts; put away your phone during your lunch break and read a book or people watch instead. If this all sounds too difficult, make an effort to turn off distractions just once a week, then work your way up to more.

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