Easy to access and completely free, nature is a powerful soother for anxiety. And you don’t need to do a backwoods camping trip in a national park in order to reap nature’s calming benefits. Any time outside, whether you are reading a book in a hammock or gardening in the backyard or simply sitting in the grass in a park, can reduce anxiety.
In one recent study, participants ruminating on a problem were asked to take a walk on a busy street or in a local park. After the walk, participants that had been in the park reported feeling much less stressed and worrying less about the problem than did participants on the crowded street. Furthermore, the physiological markings for stress (e.g., cortisol levels) were significantly lower in the park-walkers.
Some anxiety sisters struggle when it comes to spending time outside. There are many anxiety sufferers who have a fear of wide open spaces, which may, in fact, be an adaptive behavior because our ancestors were at greatest risk in open places where they could be quickly spotted by predators. These folks should avoid meadows and large parks and stick with more enclosed spaces such as wooded hiking trails or a small garden. Even an open-air porch with views of nature can have an anxiety-reducing effect.
Other anxiety sisters struggling with agoraphobia cannot comfortably leave their homes. But these women don’t have to miss out on nature’s soothing qualities—if they cannot go out into nature, they can bring nature inside to them. Patients recovering from surgery have been shown to heal faster if there is a plant in the room or a soothing view of nature. There have even been improvements in patients who are shown pictures of trees!