5 Stress-Relieving Tips Inspired By Nature

As school and work schedules intensify, keep your serenity by embracing the power of nature in your home to relieve stress.

| November/December 2013

  • A Swedish study found that people recovered more quickly from stress when they heard water and birds than when they didn't.
    Photo By iStock
  • Incorporate nature into your home to reduce stress without relying on pharmaceuticals.
    Photo By iStock
  • Research finds that tending houseplants can help us stay calm and reduce physical tension.
    Photo By iStock

Try this exercise: Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Imagine yourself somewhere you feel totally at peace, relaxed and revived. If you’re like most people, you’re thinking of a beautiful natural environment. Whether it’s on a forest trail, on a sunny beach or in a boat on a crystal clear lake, many of us find serenity in idyllic natural settings. Researchers are helping us understand how nature may, indeed, be our best antidote for stress.

Reducing stress is key to living a healthier lifestyle. When we’re stressed, our blood pressure rises and our bodies produce more of the hormone cortisol. Chronically high cortisol and blood pressure can lead to heart disease and depression. Studies have found that relaxing in nature can lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol production, helping everything from weight loss to heart health. Of course, most of us can’t run off to a cottage in the woods every time we feel stress rising. Fortunately, there are a few simple ways we can incorporate nature into our homes, reducing stress without relying on pharmaceuticals. Use these five tips to embrace the stress-reducing power of nature in your daily life.

1. Gardening 

Gardening has been promoted for mental relaxation since the mid-1800s, and recent studies have found that horticultural programs can help relieve depression, anxiety, insomnia and general stress, as well as improve many other aspects of our overall well-being.

One researcher found that gardening after a stressful experience reduced cortisol levels significantly more than reading. And an extensive study in Germany found that gardening promotes contentment and calm while increasing energy levels.

If you have a yard, or can participate in a community garden, get out there to dig, plant and tend. In many regions, gardening can continue nearly year-round. Use season-extension techniques to grow well into autumn or even early winter, then start seeds indoors several weeks before spring begins. (You’ll even be exposed to soil microorganisms that improve mood and mental activity.)

During the depths of winter, or if you don’t have garden access, you can still benefit from being with plants. Simply viewing indoor plants has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce muscle tension and aid recovery from stress. Caring for houseplants works, too: Transplanting plants from one pot to another can induce mental calm and reduce physical tension.

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