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Managing Stress through Time in Nature

Everyone experiences stress at some point. Your body’s response to stress is helpful in many situations such as avoiding injury, keeping your energy high to meet a deadline, or waking up enough to take care of your baby in the middle of the night. However, when your stress lasts weeks or months, it becomes chronic and is extremely harmful to your body. Unfortunately, many people in our society continually live in high-stress conditions and have the health symptoms to prove it. If you live with chronic stress, the impact on your health can be minimized by recognizing your symptoms and taking steps to manage your stress and the way you respond to stressful events.

Temecula Center for Integrative Medicine

What are the signs and symptoms of stress?

This may seem easy to figure out, but there are actually many different types of problems that can be caused by stress. WebMD provides this list of common signs and symptoms of stress.

Emotional symptoms of stress include:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody

  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control

  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind

  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed

  • Avoiding others

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Low energy

  • Headaches

  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea

  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles

  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat

  • Insomnia

  • Frequent colds and infections

  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability

  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet

  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing

  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Cognitive symptoms of stress include:

  • Constant worrying

  • Racing thoughts

  • Forgetfulness and disorganization

  • Inability to focus

  • Poor judgment

  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

Behavioral symptoms of stress include:

  • Changes in appetite -- either not eating or eating too much

  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities

  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes

  • Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail-biting, fidgeting, and pacing

What long-term impact does stress have on your health?

Chronic stress negatively influences your immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infection and leading to higher levels of inflammation. Once inflammation becomes chronic, it may cause inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and psoriasis. Chronic stress can also worsen existing health problems.

Over time, chronic stress can lead to diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal problems, acne, psoriasis, eczema, permanent hair loss, menstrual problems, sexual dysfunction in men and women, mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and cardiovascular disease which includes high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

How can you manage stress?

The good news is that there are many ways to manage stress. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco use, excess caffeine and alcohol, and illegal substances. Spending time with friends and family, keeping a sense of humor, setting aside time for hobbies, and practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, prayer and meditation, journaling, yoga, tai chi, massage, and enjoying time in nature are excellent strategies for alleviating stress.

Time in Nature

Interestingly, the scientific community has recently begun researching the health effects of spending more time in nature and are finding that the benefits are even greater than previously believed. Forest Bathing and Earthing are two techniques getting more publicity these days, with good reason.