According to a new study quoted by Harvard Medical School’s journal, a 20 minute walk in nature, three times a week, can relieve stress. The stress levels of the participants of this study were measured through the cortisol levels in their saliva. The change was noticed within eight weeks.
Several studies have shown that spending time outdoors, among nature, can improve memory, concentration and overall quality of life in cancer patients.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have had to restrict ourselves to the indoors. Any activity that increases our exposure to viruses will have to be avoided during cancer treatment. For this reason, visiting parks or taking a long drive out of the city may not be a good option for most of us.
But some safe outdoor spaces may still be an option. Your tiny balcony, the terrace of your house, or even a large window could bring you sufficient sunlight and fresh air.
Watching a sunset or a sunrise, or practising your yoga outdoors was also seen to have positive effects.
However, if you are blessed with a green patch around your home where you can safely stroll, then you should take advantage of it.
Read our article to know more about why cancer patients should go outdoors.
In this article we look at how you can make the most of your time in nature, so that you can reap the maximum benefits.
Choose your own pace
Your time in nature should be peaceful and enjoyable. Avoid setting tough targets of how many steps you need to take, or how fast you need to walk. Choose a pace that allows you to fully enjoy your surroundings and feel calm.
Use your ears
Spend time listening to the sounds of nature. The sounds of the breeze, birds chirping, cows mooing, or raindrops can be soothing to the nerves. Some find it easier to focus on these sounds when they close their eyes.
Without forcing yourself, try to breathe more deeply. Filling your lungs with fresh air and focusing on your breathing can help sooth your mind and relieve anxiety.
Paying attention to your immediate surroundings, helps free your mind of other thoughts about the past or the future.
Training your mind to focus only on what you see right now will need some practise. Your mind might wander to things that need to be done, or matters that bother you. You will need to gently pull your mind back to the present moment and what is in front of you.
Observing plants, soil, clouds etc closely will help you stay in the present.
Experience through touch
The sense of touch helps us feel connected with our surroundings. Here are easy ways to enjoy nature with your sense of touch:
- Walk barefoot on safe surfaces of sand or grass.
- Feel petals and leaves between your fingers and notice their texture.
- Hold pebbles on your palm to feel their weight.
- Feel cool water pass through your hands.
- Rest your back against a tree trunk.
More ways to enjoy nature:
If you are looking for more ways to use nature to improve your physical and mental health, here are some ideas:
Petting dogs, rabbits or kittens has shown to reduce stress levels and anxiety. This does not necessarily mean that you need to own a pet. You can visit animal-assisted intervention centres where safe animals will be provided to you for petting.
Some examples of such centres are Wag-ville in Bangalore, Animal Angels Foundation in Mumbai and Fur-ball Story in Delhi.
You can also visit a local farm to spend time with horses or lambs.
Crafts using natural materials like clay, leaves or wood can also connect you with nature. Those who practice these crafts for therapeutic reasons, try to do so outdoors.
This involves gardening, especially of plants that provide food for humans. Some communities encourage volunteers who can help maintain communal gardens. The fruits, vegetables and herbs produced in this manner are shared by all residents.
This is a great option for those who cannot be out in the sunlight due to skin changes from cancer treatments. Dark nature involves night time activities like star gazing, camping, night walks etc.
Nature sketching or nature photography may inspire you to spend more time around nature while also distracting your mind with activities that require your full attention.
Making time for nature
An important aspect of getting the most out of nature is to minimize distraction that can increase levels of stress. Electronic gadgets including smartphones are required to be switched off or left behind for the duration of these activities.
It was also observed that a time limit of 20 – 50 minutes was best for such activities.
If you are currently undergoing cancer treatment or are recovering, consider spending time daily in nature. Just 20 minutes of your day could improve your blood pressure, muscle relaxation and immunity.