How to manage stress
Many of us are feeling the strain of the latest lockdown. So what can we do to manage the stress which rises and sometimes looks set to overwhelm us?
There are lots of products out there that purport to de-stress us – but do they really work?
Just a walking in the rain!
As I walked with my dog – in the pouring rain – this morning through a lovely forest in Surrey, I considered how lucky I am to live with all this countryside on my doorstep. Even if it was chucking it down! I was able to admire the trees, the lichen, the birds singing in the branches, even to appreciate the sound of the rain falling. It was a pretty peaceful place.
But how much of what I was feeling was actually de-stressing me – or was this something I had just decided was supposed to be good for me?
What is Forest Bathing?
Yesterday I came across an article about forest bathing. Now, before you switch off and put me into the category of ‘new age, mumbo jumbo-spouting, tree-hugging hippy’, let me say that the term “forest bathing” doesn’t sit right with me either. After all, on the face of it, it does sounds a bit hippy’ish to me. But if we break it down, it’s really just taking a slow and considered walk in the woods! There now, that doesn’t sound too New Age’y, does it?
What could be more natural than that? Taking a relaxing walk away from the stresses of life and into the beauty of nature. You see, although most cultures have known about the benefits of spending time in nature, we in the West have begun to get so far away from it, we have almost lost touch with it altogether.
Shinrin-Yoku is the art of forest bathing which became popular in the 1980s in Japan. Since this time, science has confirmed the benefits of the practice, showing reductions in stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness after only 15 minutes. Not only that, it also seems that physiological changes occur too with blood pressure dropping and there being greater clarity of mind and mental concentration.
Is Urban Living Good For Us?
On the flip side, studies have shown that urban living can increase health problems including anxiety, depression and psychosis. It would appear we are actually designed to be in touch with nature, to feel the rain and sense the wind and sun on our skin.
So what do we do when we are stressed at work or at home, which in the current situation might actually amount to the same thing?
We might reach for that stress ball, yes that little, round, synthetic, brightly coloured object sitting on your desk. One manufacturing company’s website I visited declared that “…stress is an inescapable part of our lives and can manifest itself regardless of one’s age, gender, or lifestyle. It affects our rational thinking capabilities and prevents us from enjoying our natural disposition, which is to be happy.”
Well, there’s no denying that many of us have felt this in spades since COVID-19 arrived. However, it was their answer to the stress issue which made me sit up and listen. Their answer is, of course, to buy their stress balls!!!
Of course I get it, they are obviously in the business of selling these things. So, naturally, they are going to promote this as an answer to the increasing issue of stress in the world. My point is that this is part of the problem.
So what is the answer to our life stresses?
We are looking in all the wrong places for our stress relief. You see the answer to this challenge lies in the very environment we inhabit. I appreciate I don’t live in the middle of a city and to be honest that has been a very conscious decision. But even in cities there are green spaces which we can enjoy and relax, where we can take time out from the urban world.
We need these green spaces – they are there to help us keep balance in our lives. The tree huggers of old actually had something – it’s just they didn’t necessarily have the science to back them up.
Time has moved on and science is now able to tell us the reasons we feel better when we spend time in nature.
Trees can literally heal us!
Phytoncides is the substance emitted by plants and trees and it turns out is pretty damn awesome! Not only is this substance able to reduce our cortisol levels (that’s the stress hormone) but it actually has an impact on cancer killing cells. Yep, you heard me – being amongst trees actually increases the cells that fight cancer! These effects are found to be present after going for a day trip to a forest and can last for up to a week.
In fact the natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees are also associated with improvements in immune defenses. Back in the 1800s, tuberculosis sufferers were sent to sanitoriums set up in the pine forests of Germany as a rest cure. The results were astonishing, leaving many physicians of the time to speculate that the trees were secreting healing balm into the air! Only now is the science able to confirm that they were not far wrong in their assertions.
When you compare these effects to the impact of squishing a stress ball, I’m not sure there’s a real comparison.
Yet the manufacturers of these balls would have us believe they have the answer: “…these palm-sized balls come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are recommended as stress busters by various health organizations and fitness centers”. However, when I tried to find these “various health organizations” to back up their claims I was left wanting.
What I did find was certainly interesting…
One study in 2006 found that stress balls can improve the focus and attention of 6th graders!
Productivity can be improved by squeezing a stress ball although twiddling a pen was just as good.
The only study I could find that actually set out to verify the effectiveness of stress balls came to the conclusion that they are pretty ineffective!
Now you may be thinking I have something against stress balls. But in all honesty my issue is not with them or their manufacturers. Actually my issues is with the notion that we need to create something artificial to deal with a problem which could be resolved by something as simple as a walk in the park.
The final solution
In fact, the benefits of a walk in the park are far greater and more far reaching than the stress ball will ever be. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you want to find solutions to the way you are feeling, maybe take at look at what you are surrounding yourself with. If your day or week is filled with artificial ‘things’ and your life is somewhat lacking in all things natural, it may be time to get back in touch with mother nature. It seems the further we stray from nature, the more we seem to suffer as a consequence.
I have set out an argument here with verifiable studies that you can look at for yourself but don’t take my word or even their word for it: if you are feeling stressed, why not put it to the test and take a long leisurely walk under a canopy of trees. After all what else have you got to do?
If you have experience of forest bathing or have found other ways to destress in nature please let me know I would love to hear from you.