Spend time outside for stress relief

Spend time outside for stress relief

One of the biggest issues many people in our society complain of is high stress levels, something that affects both children and adults. While we might not think that our kids experience stress, they do. Relieving stress doesn’t have to include lots of tools or vigorous activities. In fact, it can be as easy as spending a little time outside.

Dr. Travis Copeland, a psychiatrist with Dean Clinic, said that the simple act of spending time outside and connecting with our loved ones can help melt away the stress.

“It gives us a place and opportunities for meaningful activity away from the sources of our stress – like our jobs and school,” he said. “Many of the activities we do outdoors help connect us with our families and friends and sources of support and love in a setting separate from the usual sources of conflict in our lives.”

Many of the outdoor activities we enjoy help to reduce stress because of the attitudes we bring to those activities. Being outside allows us to step away from the worries of our lives, pressures of deadlines and it allows us to focus on things like beauty and enriches our lives by experiencing a moment in nature.

Dr. Copeland adds that recent studies in Dallas and Denver have shown that when teens participate in physical activity five days per week, they show as powerful a reduction in stress and improved mood as a standard dose of antidepressant provides.

Another big mental health benefit, one that can significantly extend into school work for our kids and our daily job duties, is improved focus. Dr. Copeland notes that most of the ways we promote focus and productivity are by denying ourselves, including instructions like “don’t watch TV” or “don’t cruise the Internet while doing your homework.” Because of this he likes to tell this story about two programmers when explaining how time outside can improve focus:

Two programmers were trying to implement a reminder program to help them to be productive at work. One sent himself reminders to stop wasting time and get back to work. The other sent himself a reminder every afternoon to stop and take a walk around the building. While both strategies worked equally well, studies show that being active helps people score higher on alertness, focus and multiple types of problem solving for several hours after the activity.

“We see that kind of thing in a negative way if we try to sneak in a workout at midnight, then we can’t get to sleep immediately,” said Dr. Copeland. “By the way, a little jog around a rest area can really wake you up if you have to drive at night, it can improve your focus and productivity the next day. Also, at night the kids don’t look at you funny if you decide to hop on the swings for a minute when you’re done with your run.”

When it comes to stress relief and reconnecting with others, Dr. Copeland encourages making exploration a family affair. Some families like to find a comfortable, soothing place they can visit on a regular basis. He said the task is easy in Dane County.

“Take a weekend as a family to find a good place – somewhere that just feels good to be out and then brainstorm ways to have fun there,” said Dr. Copeland. “One way to do that with smaller children – who love to be in charge – is to drive into the country then let them be the boss a little bit. Ask them at three or four intersections which way to turn and all of a sudden you’ll find yourself a new place you haven’t seen tucked into Dane County. This is especially fun as the leaves are turning colors.”

When it comes to getting out and enjoying the outdoors, Dr. Copeland takes his own advice and makes the most of the great outdoors year round. He also enjoys challenging himself by trying new activities.

“I love fishing, paddling with a friend around Lake Wingra and chasing Walleyes and Pike around Lake Mendota during the summer,” he said. “And skiing in the winter, although my son does get a little annoyed when I stay too long on the Blue Hills up at Cascade. Next year, I am determined to learn how to wakeboard.”

These are just some of the many benefits of spending time outside. For more information on the benefits of the great outdoors, as well as low- and no-cost ways to spend more time outside, check out our Time for Kids: Explore the Outdoors section.