Take a Walk on the Wild Side

By Sofie Charron, BA, MA.

In recent years, research has confirmed what many of us have felt instinctively for quite some time: we tend to feel more relaxed in nature. In fact, a recent study published by Science Daily (2019) concluded that even 20 minutes in nature can lower stress hormone levels – a practice they named “the nature pill.”

The rules for those in the study were simple: no aerobic exercise, internet, phones, social media, reading or conversation. And participants could go anywhere, so long as the place provided a sense of nature. To some, spending 20 minutes in nature might seem like a daunting task, but I dare say that these are the people who perhaps need it most.

Developing a new habit can take time. If you are new to this concept or struggling with stress, burn-out, depression or anxiety, your brain may come up with all kinds of reasons not to try it. My advice to you is to trust the process. The brain will eventually associate time spent in nature to feeling like you’ve accomplished something good and from there you will build momentum.

One way to develop a new habit is to start gradually. Participants in this study were only required to be in nature for a minimum of 10 minutes, three times a week. Another helpful tip is to remember that the intention of this exercise is strictly for self-care. That’s it. Leave your to-do list and deep thinking for the home or office.

Remaining focused on nature and your new surroundings will be a challenge. Once you’re out there, even without any of your usual distractions, your mind will likely wander and be consumed in thoughts. If you really want to soak up all the benefits of nature, a little mindfulness will go a long way. In other words, when your mind inevitably drifts off, kindly and gently move your awareness from your thoughts to your five senses: What sounds can you pick up on? What scents surround you? What do you see? What do you feel on your face and in your feet, hands and sitting bones.

The Nature Pill isn’t going to change the issues that are causing your stress but it may change how you’re affected by stress. The Nature Pill is a time to give your mind a necessary break and to feel playful and curious, without any expectations or problem-solving work.

Stress is a bit like a treadmill. Stress in moderation isn’t bad for you at all. It can be beneficial. However, entire days spent on a treadmill would exhaust you and likely leave you injured. In keeping with the metaphor, spending less time on the treadmill and more time stretching, hydrating and resting will allow you to improve your performance and feel more resilient.

So get out there, Ottawa! Embrace your beautiful surroundings, walking trails, parks and even your own backyard. After all, ‘tis the season!

Sofie Charron is a workshop facilitator for Serenity Renewal for Families, an Alta Vista Charity that assists individuals and families affected by addiction and other impactful issues. For more information or to donate to families needing help, call (613) 523-5143 or visit serentityrenewal.ca