Stressed? Take 20 Minutes of Fresh Air.
Right now, while we’re all staying home and social distancing, a lot of “self-care” articles are popping up in our feeds. And when you read through them, so many recommendations can make you feel like, “Duh, of course, I already know that.”
But it’s easy to forget basic coping strategies when you’re in the midst of a spiraling stress moment (like, how often do we forget to take a full, deep breath?). It’s kind of like that meme that goes: “Don’t forget to drink water and get some sun, because you’re basically a houseplant with more complicated emotions.” So if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed by stress (and who hasn’t lately), let us take this opportunity to remind you:
Go outside for 20 minutes, and you’ll probably feel better. It’s science.
Yep, science confirms what most KEEN fans already know: unplugging and heading outside is soothing and replenishing. Science Daily reports that “taking at least 20 minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels.” That’s according to a study done by Dr. MaryCarol Hunter at the University of Michigan, who set out to find the most effective dose of a nature experience. She wants to see healthcare professionals giving out “nature pill” prescriptions that send patients outdoors as part of their care plan.
Connecting with nature in downtown San Diego at Balboa Park.
20 minutes of outside time was enough to efficiently lower levels of cortisol.
“Nature pills could be a low-cost solution to reduce the negative health impacts stemming from growing urbanization and indoor lifestyles dominated by screen viewing,” she says. Translation: time in nature can cure what crowded, hectic city life and your endlessly addictive phone/computer have done to your brain. So big city dwellers and people who feel glued to their devices, this one’s for you.
Her team found that 20 minutes of outside time was enough to efficiently lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that makes you feel nervous, antsy, frazzled, freaked out, and otherwise unchill. Of course, nobody is chill 24 hours a day—but if the many symptoms of stress (headaches, fatigue, insomnia, racing thoughts, trouble focusing, etc.) are disrupting your day-to-day, lower cortisol levels can be a huge relief.
How to do your “20 minutes” right (it’s super easy):
1. Go out when it’s still daylight (even if the weather’s not . . . ideal).
2. Get off your phone: no social media, surfing the internet, podcasts, calling, or texting.
3. Be silent. It works best if you don’t read a book or talk to anyone either (because those things can have an effect on your cortisol, too).
4. You can exercise if you want, but you don’t have to; you can walk around, stand still, or sit down.
5. It doesn’t have to be somewhere wild and secluded. It can be the little postage stamp park in your neighborhood or a spot in your backyard where you can see some grass, birds, and trees (or whatever your local landscape has to offer). Even if you’re on the 8th floor of an urban walkup, you can at least open your window and find some greenery (or sky) to focus on.
6. Enjoy the fresh air, the sunlight, and the breeze. That’s it!
Will more time outside increase the health benefit? Yes, definitely, but at a slower rate. After the first 20 minutes outside, your cortisol will be quite a bit lower. After that, it continues to go down, but not as fast. So if you’re pressed for time, know that 20 minutes is enough to make a big difference.
It may feel like a no-brainer, but things like this are always easier said than done, right? Especially with conference calls, glowing smartphones, and the Law of Inertia. After all, if this were easy to do, nobody would need this article to remind them.
P.S. 20 minutes in your backyard not cutting it? We feel that. Nature lovers like us are getting hit hard by stay-at-home orders. It’s not a replacement for actual fresh air and sunlight, but while you’re waiting, you can engage in some fantasy hikes through your screen with this round-up of Oregon’s most amazing natural landscapes, explored virtually. Can’t wait to see you again IRL, Oregon.