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Managing Anxiety with Nature

a young child's instincts

Early in my life, I realized nature calmed me when I was restless. As a child, I climbed the trees and looked down at the world below. I felt close to God and safe from the monsters that made me feel scared. In my preteen years, I remember playing house in some bushes at a church across the street from our house. I dug out a little room surrounded by branches and leaves. My dolls and I had wonderful tea parties. I was comfortable, happy and relaxed. A couple of years later, my mom built a play house in our backyard under a beautiful tree, far away from our house. My mom planted large, gorgeous flowers in our yard. As I spent the days in my playhouse making mud pies and other creations from dirt, sticks, and leaves, I pretended to live in a beautiful country palace.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

—Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

We had a large tree in our front yard that was perfect for climbing so I spent many hours in that tree. After moving to Alabama at age eleven, I lived in the woods and creeks. I still remember lying on the banks of Wind Creek where no one could find me, and I knew I was safe. I looked up at the clouds in the sky and I felt peace. That two and a half years, living in the Alabama woods, was the happiest time in my childhood. We suddenly moved back to Texas, and, even though we lived on a lake, I could never find that peace again to quiet my anxiety. I lost my sanctuary in the woods; that quietness next to nature – at least a nature I felt safe in, where no strangers would stumble upon me.

taking time out for nature

Soon, I found myself married with two small children. My husband and I would get a sitter regularly and take the pickup to the lake and sleep in the bed of the truck looking up at the stars. I felt loved and accepted. Nature was grounding me and I knew I was safe. Oh, we had the usual marital differences and I had in no way learned healthy ways to work through these difficult times. My loving, patient husband always gave in and made life safe and quiet again. I did not know any better during those young adult years. I just knew I thrived during times of stability and content and my husband knew that getting me back in nature would help me calm down any demons waiting to pounce on my vulnerability.

In my thirties and forties, I did a lot of tent camping on the weekends. I loved sitting in the lawn chairs listening to nature. Now in my fifties, I stay in cabins when we venture out in the woods, as my back decided, a few years ago, that tent camping was no longer an option. My husband and I love driving the back roads whenever this option is available on our trips or errands. Our latest adventure was spending four days in Arkansas in March; I had never been to Arkansas. I bet we put 2,000 miles on my car that weekend driving all over the state. There were few tourists at that time; I joked that Arkansas does not open until April as we saw this statement on sign after sign, but it did not stop us from totally enjoying the nature that Arkansas had to offer.

evidence that nature heals

As it turns out, what my young instincts taught me to manage my anxiety, is now backed up by many official studies and findings. A 2015 Stanford-led study found that walking in nature stimulates “…changes in the brain. Neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who waked in nature…” The Stanford News article goes on to report that “city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders… as compared to people in rural areas”.

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

—John Muir, Our National Parks

what is earthing?

Have you heard of grounding or earthing? It is a THING and the holistic world has hopped on this band wagon the last few years. Dr. Joseph Mercola explains, that “when you are in direct contact with the ground (walking, sitting, or laying down on the earth’s surface) the earth’s electrons are conducted to your body, bringing it to the same electrical potential as the earth.”

When I am in nature, my body relaxes. I can feel the tension drain from my neck and shoulders. If I do deep, mindful breathing out in nature, it has the same effect on me as taking a Xanax – I am not exaggerating. The next time you feel anxiety creeping up or if you find yourself in a panic attack, go out and feel the grass between your toes. Lay down in the grass or sit in a comfortable chair near plants, flowers and trees under the clouds or stars and breathe in and out slowly calming your mind of stressful thoughts. Nature is calming.

Many years my friend, many years....

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