How to Lower Your Stress the Right Way

Your potential new client just bailed, and you won’t be meeting after all. It’s time for a donut.

You accidentally dropped your phone into a puddle and just found out that your protection plan ended yesterday. Grab another latte.

You tried on every pair of pants in your closet and only one just barely fits. Soothe yourself with an evening of Netflix.

You Can Do This the Easy Way Or the Hard Way

Stress is never far away and while some amount of it can be helpful when it’s chronic, it’s harmful. 1 Chronic stress harms your heart and immune system, as well as affecting the kinds of choices you make. The more chronically stressed you are, the less you may be able to take actions that sustain and improve your health. Basically, stress makes that donut look pretty awesome, that third cup of coffee look like a lifeboat, and vegging out on the couch look like your true-life purpose.

These quick fixes are easy to get, feel good in the short term, and there’s a lot of social support. Just hashtag ‘donuts’ on Instagram and you’ll find over 7,500,000 posts with gorgeous, mouth-watering photos. You probably only have to walk about a block and a half to find a coffee shop, and with the streaming revolution, couch potato-ing has nearly become an extreme sport.

So what? What’s wrong with a bit of sweetness, a sip of energy, and a night of relaxation? If these things reduce stress, then sign me up, right?

Sadly, the short-term benefits are vastly outweighed by the long-term harm these kinds of habits can bring. One donut, or an extra cup of coffee, or a night on the couch won’t hurt. The truth is, though, that when you think these things help, you’re more likely to keep doing them. Pretty soon, what was a once-a-month remedy becomes a daily fix. If they’re easy to get, feel good in the moment, and are relatively cheap, what would make you do anything different?

Walk Among the Trees

That brings us to trees. A tree offers the same amount of stress relief as a donut, another cup of coffee, or a night of streaming on the couch, without any of the bad side effects. Sounds weird, right?

In April of 2019, researchers published a study showing that a specific amount and quality of time in Nature reduced stress. 2 They measured chemicals in the participants’ saliva that gave an indicator of the amount and kind of stress they were experiencing. These were measured again after a Nature Experience.

It turns out that 20 to 30 minutes of walking or even sitting in Nature lowers these stress chemicals. When they’re lower, you’re feeling calmer, happier, and resilient. When they looked at the difference between walking and sitting, walking created even more benefit.

One of the easiest ways to connect to Nature, no matter where you live, is by hanging out with trees.

So, if you want to have less stress in your life and make better choices for your long-term health, take a walk among some trees. Even one tree will do.

If you don’t have access to trees, find a video or photos of trees and look at them. Imagine yourself walking among them and then, get some walking in. Hold the images of those trees in your mind as you walk. Listen for the sounds of the wind in the leaves. Smell the freshness of the ground beneath them. Feel the rough texture of the bark of the trees. See the glow of the filtered sunlight through their leaves.

To boost the power of your newly adopted strategy, set a reminder to take a 20 to 30 minute walk outside each day. You’ll be creating a reservoir of calm feelings that can act like a cushion.

Then, when stress pounces, as it will, and you feel the pull toward something sweet, caffeinated, or slothy, remember your trees. Connect to the trees around you or if you can’t, bring the picture of them up into your mind. Feel as many sensations as you can imagine. Soon, you’ll notice your craving for the short-term fixes fading away.

References:

1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/

2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6458297/