- a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
- New Oxford American Dictionary
Resonate with anyone? For me, it sums up EXACTLY how I’ve been feeling.
This last week has been a difficult one for many Americans, and indeed others around the globe. During this time of fear and uncertainty, I have been longing for peace and some sense of reassurance that everything will turn out okay. I found this comfort through practicing yoga and meditation and, in particular, by spending more time outdoors.
While nature is always changing, it is a sort of constant for me. Green spaces offer that grounding environment that I can still turn to when everything else is chaotic. Even after an event as historical as this, the woods and the beach will be there, and they won’t be different than they were yesterday.
According to the Harvard Medical School Health Publications, since the 1970s meditation and other stress-reduction techniques such as Yoga have been studied as possible treatments for anxiety. The increasing popularity of both practices has provided growing evidence that meditation and yoga can help manage this condition. Exercise, spending time in Nature or even socialising with friends, are other useful self-soothing techniques.
I consider myself very fortunate for many reasons, but right now, I feel particularly thankful to live in an area where you can find more Yoga Studios than fast food venues, and where beautiful open spaces are not hard to find. Northern California (and the Bay area in particular), is well known for its views and majestic scenery, offering spectacular “restorative” green spaces where one can withdraw for a little self-reflexing and self-soothing.
In fact, the alleviating effects that spending time in nature can have on anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues — and especially when combined with exercise – are pretty well proven. Exposure to nature is often used as part of therapy for short-term recovery from stress and long-term improvement of people’s health and overall well being, as well as to improve self-esteem and mood. Indeed, people feel a little more energetic even after just looking at pictures of nature!
Meanwhile, incorporating exercise into the time we spend outdoors is all more beneficial. In 2010 English scientists reported that just five minutes of outside exercise resulted in pretty dramatic improvements in self-esteem and mood. Exercise helps release endorphins, which improve our natural immunity and reduce our perception of pain. They may also serve to improve mood. Another theory suggests that exercise stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which improves mood even more directly. It's hard to imagine how a stroll in a pretty park wouldn't make us feel better than a walk in a dreary setting. I know it helps me relax and cheer up!
I’ve balanced exercising outdoors with regular meditation (or meditating outdoors for bonus points!). The practice of sitting still and comfortably, of focusing on my breathing, and of bringing my mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future has allowed me to relieve a lot of the stress I’ve been carrying since the election. Never underestimate the good a moment of peace and quiet can do!
So, if like me you’re feeling bit anxious, unsettled, and upset, my suggestion to get your mind back into gear would be to start a daily meditation practice using guided meditation apps like Headspace, going out, and moving around. I hope you find as much comfort in these practices as I have.