Rebooting mind-body health is an important practice to integrate in your everyday life for stress & anxiety relief. Just think of how much stress can build up in a day!
The stresses and responsibilities of our day to day lives in addition to the continual challenges of COVID, climate change and political unrest can cause us to ruminate and feel as if we’re spinning. In fact, as you’re reading this you may be hunched over your computer at the office or taking a break scrolling on your phone to escape.
Fortunately, there are a variety of stress & anxiety relief techniques you can implement (many of which are evidence-based and backed by peer-reviewed studies). All you need to do is find a local park, forest, grassy area, or even your backyard!
How Can I Reboot Mind Body Health?
It’s widely known that being in nature is a powerful tool for stress & anxiety relief. So powerful, indeed, it can help you reboot your mind-body health.
In fact, a recent study involving 20,000 participants from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter found that those exposed to nature for 120 minutes per week were significantly more likely to report good health and well-being than those who don’t.
Following the mindfulness activities outlined below can help enhance your time spent in nature and reboot mind-body health. With each activity be mindful of the present experience when you find your mind wandering back to anxious or stressful thoughts. No matter your fitness level, age, or ability, you can improve your health and relieve stress & anxiety with these helpful nature exposure practices.
1. Feel Rain Drops on Your Face
Think rain is dreary? Think again! It’s important to reframe your outlook to focus on the positive as you reboot mind-body health. Recreation Northwest is based in Bellingham, WA- where we’ve learned to love the rain!
One way to relieve stress & anxiety is to practice raindrop meditation and focus on each individual drop of rain on your face.
Guiding Questions for Stress & Anxiety Relief with Rain
Hone in on the sensation.
Is it warm or cold?
Are there many drops, or just a sprinkle?
Focus on what you’re feeling.
Envision the rain washing away your troubles. If thoughts emerge–let them. Gently revert your attention back to the sensations of the rain.
2. Brush Your Hand Against a Fern
Feel the spores on the underside of the fronds. Notice what physical feelings arise in you as you tune into this experience. Close your eyes and feel the ferns against your face.
By focusing on those physical feelings, you’ll be able to get out of your mind and help stress & anxiety dissipate.
Did you know some of the sword ferns in the forests of Bellingham can grow upwards of 4-5 ft. tall? Help reboot your mind-body health by getting out exploring.
Guiding Questions for Stress & Anxiety Relief with Ferns
Were you able to find some sword ferns?
What do the spores feel like?
Are the ferns a uniform green color?
Do you brush your hand fast or slow across the leaves?
As you touch the fern, focus on your diaphragm moving as you breathe in and out.
3. Hug a Tree
If you want to breathe in a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) heading to the forest may be the very best way. Being close to trees is a great way to reboot mind-body health. It turns out those tree huggers were onto something! As you know, we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide and this gas exchange process transports oxygen to the bloodstream. Conversely, carbon dioxide from the blood passes to the lungs upon exhalation.
So where does the carbon dioxide go? To the trees! According to the USDA, “ one large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people.”
And it gets even cooler: From Arbor Day Foundations’ Tree Facts, “a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in exchange.”
The Western Red Cedar is known as the “Tree of life” to northwest tribes. Find a tree in your neighborhood to visit at least once a week and notice how that tree changes throughout the year.
Guiding Questions for Stress & Anxiety Relief with Trees
Which kind of tree are you drawn to?
Can you notice any smells coming from the tree?
Do you notice improved air quality near the tree?
What does the bark feel like?
As you breathe, focus on the symbiotic relationship we have with trees and express gratitude.
4. Ground Your Feet to the Earth
The next time you go to a public park, take off your shoes and touch your feet to the earth. This is called earthing. Studies have shown that walking barefoot lends electrons to the body, induces better sleep, and reduces pain.
Grounding can also hamper the body’s chronic inflammatory response according to this review: “grounding an organism produces measurable differences in the concentrations of white blood cells, cytokines, and other molecules involved in the inflammatory response.”
The Next time you’re at the beach without flip flops, sink deeper into relaxation knowing you’re rebooting your mind-body health by grounding. But the benefits of grounding aren’t limited to just the beach. You can also walk on the forest floor, rocks, in your grassy backyard, or swim in water!
Guiding Questions for Stress & Anxiety Relief with Grounding
Feel the sand between your toes.
Feel the morning dew on your feet.
Feel leaves crunch beneath your feet during the fall.
Feel the water envelop your skin.
Visualize all of your free radicals (they cause age and degeneration) leaving the body.
5. Practice Box Breathing
Mark Divine, former US Navy SEALs Commander, helped popularize the Box Breathing (also known as “4x4x4x4 breathing” or 4 by “4 by 4 by 4 breathing”) used to keep SEALs calm in high stakes situations.
This technique can be done anywhere for stress & anxiety relief, although its effects are more pronounced in nature.
With box breathing, there is a visualization component and also a controlled breathing component.
When breathing, picture a box in your mind. Let a light, cursor, laser pointer, or any other guiding object traverse one side of the box. This will help guide your breathing.
Here is the breathing sequence:
Breathe in (4 seconds)
Hold (4 seconds)
Exhale (4 seconds)
Hold (4 seconds)
As you respirate and hold your breath, focus on visualizing your guiding object traveling along the edges of the box. After each four second repetition, you should be on the adjacent side of the box.
6. Let the Sun Kiss Your Skin
Most things are neither entirely good nor bad—the sun is no exception to this aphorism. It’s been proven that the sun and its warming radiation offer the body plenty of health benefits.
In fact, a large study involving 30,000 Swedish women found that sun exposure reduced all-cause mortality.
As many know, the sun is necessary for the production of vitamin D. But its benefits don’t end there. Sun exposure also releases endorphins (the body’s natural feel-good chemicals), regulates the immune system, and helps set the body’s internal clock i.e. circadian rhythm.
One thing is to be sure: the sun is not to be feared, but respected. Per Harvard, multiple studies show getting small doses of sun over time is less dangerous than getting a drastic bout of sun exposure. Further, the amount of sun exposure needed is dependent on a variety of variables: from genes, to diet to skin type. In fact, “only 0.1% of the total global burden of disease in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)” per a 2006 WHO report.
As always, wear sunscreen and consult your doctor, also bear in mind that moderate sun exposure is different from sunburn.
Guiding Questions for Stress & Anxiety Relief with Sun Exposure
Let the warmth sink into your face.
Feel the rays illuminate your countenance.
Does the sun burn or feel too hot?
Does the sun warm your face enough to account for the wind?
7. Dip Your Feet in the Water
An interesting way to reboot mind-body health is through cold water exposure. For those of you who aren’t “cold-adapted” (or for those who are, but are in the dead of winter), you could start off by dipping just a toe or your hand in the water. But first, why would you be crazy enough to plunge into cold water and how does it relieve stress & anxiety?
It’s been found in a study that baseline concentration of important components of the antioxidative defense system are higher in winter swimmers. Another study came to similar findings: antioxidative adaptation was improved post winter swim, suggesting that cold water exposure improves the response to environmental stressors.
Guiding Questions for Stress & Anxiety Relief with Cold Water
Focus on feeling the cold.
What happens when you breathe through your diaphragm?
Does that help you bear the cold?
Can you dip your feet in further?
Breathe into the sensation.
8. Stop & Smell The Roses
Society has become fast-paced. We often forget to indulge in the simple things in life like stopping to smell the roses. It doesn’t have to be a rose bush; it can just be some pine needles on a Douglas Fir. The point is to slow down and be mindful for stress & anxiety relief.
Guiding Questions for Stress & Anxiety Relief with Roses
Try bending down to the ground and smelling the grass after a fresh rainfall.
Notice the smell of low tide if you live near the ocean, or the way the earth smells right after the rain.
Keep your nose open and become more aware of the natural world around you.
Let Nature Guide You to Better Mind-Body Health
Nature provides us with a plethora of ways to reboot mind-body health and relieve stress & anxiety. If you’re inspired to take action after reading through this list of activities, sign up for a guided forest bathing/nature immersion experience with one of our experts. See our schedule of offerings here.
Todd Elsworth is one of the many “Mossy-haired lunatics roaming the dripping peninsulas”, described in “I’m Here for the Weather” by Tom Robbins. As executive director, he works to fulfill our mission to teach the health benefits of nature, promote outdoor recreation, and steward the places where we play.