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Nature Therapy

Posted by Cynthia Ryan

In many places, winter means dark, cold and gloomy weather, which can have an adverse effect on our mood. Spring, on the other hand, heralds longer days and the blossoming of flowers. It means more sunshine, which can impact our bodies positively, providing a sense of wellbeing and helping to lift your spirit out of the darkness.

Studies have shown that our environment affects our stress level. Too much stress can negatively impact our mood, as well as our nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Being in a negative environment can cause feelings of anxiety, depression, and hopelessness, which affect the body by elevating blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension, and decreasing the functioning of the immune system.

It’s natural to seek out more pleasant environments during stressful times. Many people turn to the beauty and serenity of nature to uplift their mood and sense of wellbeing.

Spending time in nature can be healing. It can be a distraction from pain and illness. Nature can promote calmness and a sense of refreshment.

For people with chronic illnesses it is tempting to spend too much time watching TV or being on a computer or smartphone to distract yourself from your symptoms. However, studies have shown that large amounts of screen time are associated with higher feelings of depression and isolation.

Here are a few easy things you can do to reap the benefits of being in nature this spring:

  1. Take a walk at a local park.

  2. Take a drive in the country.

  3. Sit by a river, lake or ocean and watch the water (note: moving water can be a trigger for some vestibular patients).

  4. Find someplace to watch the sunset (or sunrise).

  5. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for a hike (try using trekking poles to help you keep your balance).

It is clear that spending time in nature can be beneficial for our mind and body. But what if we have a chronic illness that makes getting outside or being outside difficult? How can we still reap the benefits of nature without triggering more symptoms?

Some people have allergies that can trigger symptoms. Others are sensitive to sunlight. Some live in climates that are hot and humid during the spring and summer months. Here are some tips for dealing with these potential triggers:

  • Wear an allergy mask.

  • Don't over-exert yourself.

  • Give yourself time to adjust to the warmer, more humid weather.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

  • Wear sunscreen.

  • Try to stay in shady areas.

  • Avoid going outside when the sun is at its peak. Early mornings and later in the evening are the best times for your outdoor excursions.

  • If you begin to feel dizzy, off-balance or have other symptoms, return inside immediately.

There may be times when being outside is just not a good choice for someone dealing with vestibular symptoms. One alternative is to enjoy nature from inside by looking out of a window, either at home or by driving somewhere that has an indoor viewing area. Perhaps the trees in your yard are in bloom, or you have a bird-feeder. Or maybe you live near a beautiful vista such as the ocean or a mountain range. Even looking at photos of nature can imbue you with a sense of awe and wonder.

 

Article written by Peggy Artman & Cynthia Ryan

 

References:

  1.  T

    aking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing; University of Minnesota; https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing

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