Spring is finally here! Time to get outside and shake off the monotony and feelings of ambivalence that crept in over the winter. Usually, I don’t mind the shorter, grey days but this year the cold leached into my bones and the lack of sunshine made me feel like every day was just like the last. I found it hard to get excited about anything and was getting overwhelmed by everything. Cold temperatures can affect muscle and nerve activity and cause more spasticity, cramping, and stiffness. It can make using your hands more difficult and make the MS hug worse.1 That’s what was happening with me. So, I stayed inside and hoped things would improve. I wanted to go outside and take a walk, but it was cold, and I was in pain and I had things to do. Blah, blah. None of which ever got done.
We had a random 75-degree bright sunny day; smack in the middle of a crappy rainy weather week. Just like that my attitude changed. I was on my way to get an MRI thinking that it figured, I was going to be stuck in a tube on the one beautiful day. So, on the way home I pulled over and stopped in a park for a walk. The sun was hot, shining on my face and I didn’t care that I wasn’t wearing my sunscreen. I didn’t care I was going to get blisters because I wasn’t wearing socks. I didn’t care I wasn’t going to have time to do whatever I was supposed to be doing when I got home. Basically, I didn’t care about anything, and for me, that was the point of the walk. Getting outside to decompress and have a kind of emotional reset. Every day we put all this pressure on ourselves to accomplish things that you can’t possibly complete in one day, then feel disappointed when we don’t. We feel guilty taking time for ourselves. For me, being in nature is ‘me time’. Guilt-free time. Time to mindfully do nothing. Some space to just let the senses take over and the mind to clear. A meditation of sorts. A timeout.
There is something about being in a park, or the woods, or the beach that makes the stress melt right off you. I can feel my brain calm down, my thoughts quiet, my heart rate slow, my muscles unclench. I start to relax, think better, get in a better mood. Connecting with nature is an excellent way to recharge my batteries, find motivation, and just chill out. Afterward, I always feel better equipped to deal with whatever is going on in my life. My husband and I like to go down the shore to unwind. To get there we cross a bridge. When we see that bridge, both of us unconsciously just let out a long breath, every time. We laugh, every time because it’s like our bodies even know when we see that bridge and smell that salt air, the beach, and relaxation are coming. On the way home it’s the opposite, we see that bridge, we tense up; back to the grind.
Being in nature is good for immunity. Scientists aren’t sure why green space leads to better health but think the answer is in nature’s ability to enhance the functioning of the body’s immune system. When we immerse ourselves in nature, the body relaxes and is able to switch from the “flight or fight” state most of us live in which shuts down the immune system, to the ‘rest and digest’ mode and the body can once again focus its resources on the immune system.2
Being in nature can lower stress hormones- According to a recent study, 20-30 minutes walking or sitting in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature can significantly reduce cortisol levels. The lead author of the research says, “Healthcare practitioners can use our results as an evidence-based rule of thumb on what to put in a nature-pill prescription.”3 Wouldn’t that be an amazing thing if doctors began to prescribe getting out in nature as part of stress management strategies?
Nature is healing- It seems that even looking at nature can be beneficial to your health! “Just three to five minutes spent looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water can begin to reduce anger, anxiety, and pain and to induce relaxation, according to various studies of healthy people that measured physiological changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, or heart and brain electrical activity.”4 So, look out the windows or hang pictures of relaxing natural scenery. Another study showed that plants in hospital rooms reduced stress, promote healing, and reduced healing time.5,6
Most people don’t think in terms of being nature deprived. They don’t think about the endless hours they spend indoors under artificial light in rooms with poor ventilation. If you have to spend a lot of time indoors, add plants. Studies have shown they improve cognition and energy and can even decrease pain.7 Another great reason to get outside is the natural sounds shift your nervous system into a relaxed state lowering anxiety.8
Need a timeout in nature? Here are a few ideas:
Hike or walk at a local county park or lake. Here is a link for people who need wheelchair accessible trails, listed by state, in the US- https://www.traillink.com/activity/wheelchair-accessible-trails/ I don’t live in the UK, but this website allowed you to review routes before trying out the trail in person for people with accessibility challenges- http://www.walkswithwheelchairs.com/
Spend time gardening or just sitting in your garden.
Have a picnic. Or spend your lunch break outside on a bench or in a park.
Go to a local park or pond and read a book, journal, play, fish, feed the ducks.
We all can recall moments when something in the great outdoors was so beautiful it took our breath away. Nature does that every day. When we literally stop in awe to look at a sunset, a rainbow, a flower, a butterfly, a starfish, the surf. These things surround us every day but it’s only when we stop and take the time to notice them that we see and appreciate them. It gives perspective. It helps me sort through what’s important and what’s not, and something about all that fresh air inspires me to take better care of myself.
What about nature inspires you? How do you like to spend time in nature?
1 https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-cold-affects-symptoms-of-multiple-sclerosis-2440834 2 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150916162120.htm 3https://neurosciencenews.com/nature-cortisol-stress-11001/?fbclid=IwAR2_y7X0-QAkW9FcwVMQMYxPGgso510lTwGOm25nL37DZCLzO_Aco1duau8 4https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nature-that-nurtures/ 5 https://www.phsgreenleaf.co.uk/the-benefits-of-plants-in-hospitals/ 6https://greenplantsforgreenbuildings.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Effects-of-Flowering-and-Foliage-Plants-in-Hospital-Rooms-on-Patients-Recovering-from-Abdominal-Surgery..pdf 7, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-30024/a-doctor-explains-how-to-take-advantage-of-the-healing-powers-of-nature.html 8https://www.hyperbiotics.com/blogs/recent-articles/5-ways-spending-time-in-nature-benefits-your-health-and-your-gut