Air, Movement, and Happy Chemicals

This week I was feeling kind of stuck.

I was caught in the chaos, moving from one mirthless task to the next.  As I plugged away – at work, lockdown homeschooling, cooking, organizing, and caring for my children – things seemed to be moving backwards.  The laundry piled up despite my best efforts.  My work projects were falling behind.  Even my children seemed kind of depressed.  It felt out of control. 

So, I decided to jump ship and go hiking.

The next morning, we headed out to one of my favorite forests.  I sat on the ground and touched rocks and leaves.  We breathed deeply, inhaling the pine scented air.  The sun shined upon our faces as we moved our bodies. All seemed right with the world.

It may seem counterintuitive but spending those few hours outdoors changed everything.  After some organizing and a reset hike, I was back – and ready to tackle my projects once more.  The kids were happy again.  Life seemed manageable.

But how could hiking possibly help us feel more capable?

As it turns out, nature is the perfect feel-good cocktail.  Our brains, like everything else in our body, need a chance to rest and recalibrate, particularly in times of stress and uncertainty.  Hiking can help clear our minds and give us a chance to mentally relax.

How does walking in the great outdoors do this?  First of all, we tend to let our minds wander when we’re outdoors. When we hike, we’re not conducting business meetings or jotting down to-do lists.  We’re dreaming and absorbing our surroundings. 

Studies have shown that time spent not actively thinking can actually lead to greater creativity and problem-solving ability.  This explains why a long walk could actually increase your productivity.  That break is not a waste of time.

Not only that, being outside can help regulate our breathing.  Nature calms us, causing our respiration to slow to match the pace of the outdoors.  Proper breathing and oxygen flow are known to reduce stress and anxiety.  Less stress leads to calm management of life’s little problems.

And the walking part of hiking?  Well exercise, of course, creates endorphins – happy chemicals which leave us feeling that post-exercise high.  Just the very physical movement of a nature walk helps us feel good.

When we hike, we get vitamin D (shown to promote immunity) and absorb substances released by trees that boost our mood (ever heard of forest bathing?).  One crazy idea (but suggested by science!) is that bacteria in soil actually increases endorphin levels.

All of this goes to prove that when life feels out of control, taking a hike isn’t such a bad idea.  Getting out in nature, even just for a short break, can be an easy way to lower our stress levels and recalibrate – leaving us feeling relaxed and ready to handle whatever obstacles life throws our way.

Get out there.
And recalibrate.

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