It is always good for our physical and mental wellness to take time out to rest and relax, especially if you have been so busy rushing around entertaining children over the summer. Relaxing can help you to destress, improve your mood, sleep better and improve your memory (definitely something I need in my life!)… so why not celebrate International Relaxation Day which happens on the 15th August each year by looking at the top 10 ways you can relax in nature, and what is better is that they are all free!
1. Go for a nature walk
Getting outside and taking even a 15-minute walk in nature, down a country path or over a heathland, or even just at the park, can be so beneficial for relaxing. A study carried out by the University of Birmingham found that workers that went for a 30-minute walk in their lunch breaks felt less stressed and tense, and let’s face it, it is hard to feel stressed when you are at the park, right? I have often marvelled at the effect that a walk outside has on my own children, and my nephew too. It is like they are transformed, and definitely a lot happier having been in nature.
2. Sit in a quiet spot and meditate
Your quiet spot could be as close as your back garden, or could be the woods nearby, or a spot of grass. Places I have sat and meditated outside include a local forest, the clifftops near my home, and next to a stream. Once you are there, you can do your own meditation, or follow something like these Nature Meditations by Meditation Oasis.
3. Walk barefoot
You don’t have to go far to walk outside barefoot. You can do this on grass, on sand or soil, and this has a great earthing or grounding effect on the body. The reflexology effect of the ground on stimulating pressure points means that this is also really beneficial for your health. An article published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health in 2012 stated that when you walk barefoot on the ground, the electrons from the Earth’s surface are transferred into your body which have antioxidant effects, that help to combat oxidative stress (which can be a cause of inflammation), and also helps to improve your sleep, cardiovascular health, strengthen immune and your nervous systems and also helps to boost your brain power. Amazing! I love walking barefoot at the beach (I hate sand in my shoes, but even so, I love feeling the sand between my toes) and I have even been known to go out in the morning dew to walk around my garden.
4. Write your journal outside
There are many health benefits of journalling, including reducing stress, greater self-discovery, improved problem solving and it is great to clarify your thoughts and feelings. Pondering and being inspired by nature is a wonderful way to get you journal writing. I know that when I have sat down outside to write, so many flashes of insight and inspiration has come to me. I think it is because I am completely away from distractions, technology and the hustle and bustle, so my brain has space to think, and also seeing nature at work has some kind of magical effect on me to gather my thoughts.
5. Spend some time forest bathing
Forest bathing is quickly becoming popular in the UK, and is based on the traditional Japanese therapy, shinrin-yoku. It is based on the premise of spending at least 3 hours outside among trees. Even 15 minutes spent among trees has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and this is greatly down to the chemicals that trees emit. Monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes are found in abundance in forests, and as they stimulate the limbic system, they can help us to feel grounded, to lift our mood, and also to relax.
6. Take a walk at the beach
It is a proven fact that being at the beach helps to immediately release serotonin, which is key for relaxing and feelings of happiness. The sounds of the waves, the soft sand under your feet and seeing the ocean are all really relaxing and calming to the body. In fact, the sounds of waves crashing have been used in sleep machines, and you can even trust a visit to the beach to help you sleep better at night. You also tend to breathe more deeply at the beach and get more oxygen into your body, which helps you to relax and destress. I love living near the beach because it means that I can access its therapeutic benefits more easily than perhaps someone who lives further away, but everywhere in the UK is within a few hours’ drive of the coast, so if you want to have a relaxing day, head to the sea for the day.
7. Watch a tranquil water feature
Looking and hearing the sounds of water, whether it is the ocean’s waves, a trickling stream, a waterfall or a river, is a lot simpler for our brain to process than the hustle and bustle we experience in our every day lives. We live in a world where our senses and brain is bombarded by so many different things, that water helps us to get a break from that, and chill out. I know that I have always found water to be almost hypnotic, and could spend hours watching ripples on a lake or sat next to a stream. A marine biologist, Wallace Nichols, said that we all naturally tune in to water, and have a “blue mind” which is “a mildly meditative state characterised by calm, peacefulness, unity and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life”… so get out to your nearest water place and soak up the sights and sounds to help you relax more.
8. Take some deep breaths
When you are relaxed, you tend to breathe more deeply, and so to help your body to relax, taking deep breaths make your body feel like it does when it is already relaxed. Taking in deep breaths when you are out in nature also helps you to breathe in the chemical compounds that plants release too. I can’t help but breathe more deeply when I am looking out to sea or am in the forest, it is just so tranquil!
9. Listen to the sounds of nature
So I love lying down or sitting in a quiet place with my eyes closed, listening to the sounds of nature, whether that is the leaves rustling, birds singing or waves crashing on to the beach (I know, I am lucky to live on the coast!). I remember growing up at my grandparents house where they had a weeping willow tree in the garden (planted by my uncle when my mum was young), and I used to spend hours sat under that tree listening to the gentle breeze against those thousands of leaves and hearing them gently rustle. It was bliss! And the reason for that is that sounds of nature have an effect on our brains – they help to calm the fight-or-flight response and increase the resting and relaxation response. Even if you can’t get out into nature, a good substitute is listening to sounds of nature (easily found on YouTube) which can help you calm down a lot quicker than not listening to them after a stressful event.
10. Swim in the sea (or lake)
I know I have already mentioned the benefits of the sea, water, being outside in nature, but there is nothing I find more relaxing than swimming outside, whether that is in the sea or in a lake (make sure you check it is safe to swim in). I love taking in the sights and sounds of nature while being immersed in water itself. Swimming anywhere is known to be relaxing in itself, and many people relax by having a bath or a shower, but why not increase the effects of these by being outdoors too… and you don’t have to fully swim if you prefer not to. Paddling in a stream or in the sea is also fun and has relaxing effects on the body.
So how are you going to relax today? How does being in nature relax you?