We all have moments of stress. Whether it’s due to our jobs or personal life, without the proper techniques to deal with our stress, it can consume us. Although humans feel stressed about both trivial and important aspects of life, stress is actually the body’s fight or flight instinct. It developed as a survival tactic to help us react to potential life-ending situations. However, we’ve evolved so much as a species that this same mechanism is triggered over things that are not actually life-or-death situations, which is why chronic stress can really take a toll on our physical and mental well-being.

To help keep your stress levels under control, many experts suggest spending time in nature and picking up a hobby such as hiking or outdoor photography. Invest in some good gear for your new pastime–like a nice pair of hiking boots or specialized camera equipment for nature photography–and start exploring. Here are some other suggestions on how to use nature to manage your stress.

How Does Nature Relieve Stress?

It’s a fact—spending even just 20 minutes in nature each day can boost your mood, reduce stress and even lower your chance of getting heart disease. But how? Although researchers are not exactly sure why nature is able to soothe our minds and bodies, it can be found that people who exercise or even just sit outside for a short period of time tend to have more positive thoughts than those doing the same activities in an urban setting. The sounds of nature may play a part in our mind’s reaction as we tend to associate outdoor sounds like birds chirping with relaxation. When researchers have done MRIs to understand how nature affects our brains, they noticed levels of the stress hormone cortisol decrease when people heard nature sounds. Some researchers have also found a correlation between time spent outdoors and reduced chance of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.

Favorite Outdoor Activities for Stress Relief

1. Exercise

One way to really boost your mood and lower your feelings of stress is to take your regular exercise routine outside. Exercise itself has already been shown to elevate your mood because it releases endorphins, which cause feelings of joy, and lowers levels of cortisol, much like the sounds of nature can do. When you’re already performing an activity that makes your mind and body feel good and then you take it to a new, calmer setting, the results will be amplified. If you live somewhere near the mountains or walking trails, you can take a hike to get some exercise and enjoy the natural scenery of your area. Many people also enjoy running outdoors, as it can be more exciting and rewarding than running inside on a treadmill. Running on the beach is a bit tougher physically, but a great way to take your mind off the stresses of everyday life.

2. Meditating

Meditating is another practice that has been proven to reduce stress and improve your mental clarity. Most researchers suggest that everyone try meditating for at least five minutes a day to lower their stress levels and feel happier and less anxious. Take your meditation outside so you can enjoy the relaxing sounds of nature as you focus on your breathing and let go of your worries. Meditation can teach you some very useful breathing techniques that can be used throughout your day when you’re feeling particularly stressed out. If you tend to get anxiety as well, these breathing techniques will come in handy as it reminds you to slow down your breathing.

3. Photography

A great way to appreciate even the tiniest parts of nature, photography is the perfect hobby to pick up if you’re trying to spend more time in nature. There are so many different ways to capture the natural world through photography. You may want to purchase specialized photography equipment to help stabilize your device and get the perfect panoramic landscape shots. Many nature photographers decide to go in the opposite direction and practice macrophotography, which is the art of taking extreme close-ups. You can use this type of photography to photograph insects, flowers and plants, giving a new, unique perspective on a common subject.

4. Painting

For people with creative tendencies, nature seems to inspire something within them, which is why so many artists enjoy painting or creating in a natural setting. If you enjoy painting or any other kind of art, try spending some time outside and just designing whatever comes to mind. This is a great exercise to relieve stress, increase creativity and boost your mood.

5. Water Activities

There are plenty of ways to get active outside–from running to yoga to water sports. Unfortunately, in most areas of the country, you can’t perform water sports all year round, but when the weather is warm, this is a great way to get out and let loose. Kayaking is a great way to explore the natural landscape and take your mind off your work or personal stress. Stand-up paddleboarding and surfing are two other common water sports hobbies that you can regularly do on weekends or even during the week if you have some extra time. This kind of outdoor activity is perfect for anyone who craves a little more adventure out of their time with nature.

Spend Time with Mother Nature to Boost Your Mood

One of the best methods for reducing stress is to spend time outdoors. No matter what you like to do, there’s an outdoor activity for you. If you’re a bit more adventurous, try taking a hike or picking up a water sport to give yourself time with nature. For people who want a hobby that is a bit more relaxed, try meditating or picking up nature photography and you’ll find that you may develop a whole new appreciation for the natural world. As you get more involved in your new hobby, you can invest in new equipment. Just be sure to focus on your experience in the moment and let the stress of the day fade away.

Ethan Long is the business development director for MovoPhoto. Before starting with them, he worked in advertising in NYC where he gained over eight years of experience in content and video marketing. In his free time, he enjoys being outside, learning new photo and videography techniques, and spending time with his wife and their dog, Rory.

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