Let nature ease your mind

6 ways Californians can nourish their mental health
7 feb. 2019 · Ashley Greer
Backpacker in the mountains

Gloomy thoughts. They’re pesky, they’re persistent. We all get them from time to time. But what if you can’t stop thinking about a negative experience? Try as you might, you obsess about it: an argument with your partner, a mistake at work, a parenting fail – with no resolution. This is called “rumination.” It’s stressful, it’s common, and it can increase your risk of developing anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure and lead to unhealthy behaviors such as overeating and alcohol misuse. 

So, what can you do to curb this pattern of harmful thinking? Stanford researchers found that spending time in the great outdoors can, in fact, help reduce rumination. According to the study, “Participants who went on a 90-minute walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination, and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.”  

While it’s true that more than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings (and that number is expected to rise), spending time in nature may be essential for our mental health. That’s good news for Californians as the Golden State is home to nine national parks, 840 miles of coastline, and hundreds of mountain ranges that can provide free therapy.

Here are six ways you can nourish your mental (and physical!) health and embrace all that the California landscape has to offer: 

  1. Take a hike. Even a 10-minute walk can do wonders for your mental health. California is chock-full of some of the most breathtaking woods, forests, mountains, and coastal trails in the country. Not sure where to start? A variety of popular apps can help guide you on your journey to fresh air and improved well-being. If hitting a major trailhead isn’t feasible, many urban areas have accessible natural preserves and parks (San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Los Angeles’s Griffith Park, and Balboa Park in San Diego are a few gems worth exploring) that can serve as a perfect place to boost your mental and physical health. 

  2. Get a dose of vitamin “sea.” California’s coastline is legendary, and our beaches are packed with opportunities for self-care. “The power of the ocean to bring mental health benefits to humans is a growing field of research as scientists increasingly understand the value of the marine realm in human health and well-being,” says phys.org. Walking, inline skating, or biking one of the state’s many beach paths is an ideal way to embrace nature and improve mental health. Take it a step further and get out on the water. Paddleboarding is hugely popular at beaches and lakes throughout the state. Surfing and being in the ocean in general are believed to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you live close to the coast, head down to the beach; if you don’t, perhaps it’s a good time to plan a visit. 

  3. Rethink your weekend getaway. Glittering urban destinations often serve as the focal point for quick weekend trips (Vegas, anyone?), but they can also be an opportunity to spend time outdoors. Camping is a great way to connect with Mother Nature 24/7 and be active. California’s deserts, forests, beaches, and mountains offer idyllic campgrounds with plenty of opportunities to hike, kayak, explore, and nourish your mind in clean air. In addition to exercise, a few benefits of camping include unplugging from technology, improved sleep with the sounds of nature, and a mood boost. If camping is too rustic for you, give glamping a try.

  4. Get connected. Reaching out to family and friends can be a tool for coping with rumination. Get a Fitbit fitness tracker and compete with your friends for the most steps. Take your lunch meeting with coworkers on a walk through the park. Challenge your friends to take the best outdoor photos on Instagram. Connection, coupled with nature, is a double dose of positive health benefits (and fun).

  5. Practice yoga or meditation outside. The health benefits of meditation and yoga are well documented. Healthline reported that “meditation can reduce rumination because it involves clearing your mind to arrive at an emotionally calm state.” Another benefit? You can do both almost anywhere. If yoga or meditation is your jam, try taking it outside to enhance its mind-body benefits. According to Yoga Journal, “A recent Swedish study found viewing nature, especially fractals (the organically occurring patterns in tree branches and fern leaves, for example), increased wakeful relaxation and internal focus, two pretty important components of a rewarding yoga practice.”

  6. Use Blue Shield’s Symptom Checker. If you are a Blue Shield member and you are still feeling anxious after going outdoors and connecting with others, log in to your online account and use the Symptom Checker and access other mental health resources to help you take action and feel better.

HuffPost reported that, “Researchers at the University of Michigan found that just a few minutes walking in nature can reduce depressive symptoms, which is common in people who live in urban spaces.” It’s time to get outside, so put that phone down and let’s go!

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