girl sitting on grass smelling white petaled flower

Stop to Smell The Flowers: What You Can Learn From How My Dog Gets Stress Relief

My dogs have a rough life. They get up early, get dressed, have their coffee and head off to work for a busy day. Then home to cook dinner, shuffle kids to soccer games, band practice and study dates.

Wait… that’s not right. That probably sounds more like YOUR day!

My dogs sleep in, eat, snuggle, repeat. Of course, we also take walks and wander outside.

One of my dogs, Stewart, likes to sniff around everywhere, as most dogs do. He sniffs the ground, the lamp post, the hydrant, the block wall, the rocks, the grass.. he sniffs everywhere and sometimes I just want to hurry him along. I noticed he especially seems to linger when he comes upon this particular flowering bush. It’s so cute and makes me think of the old saying, “stop to smell the flowers”… so it slows me down and I let him linger.

We all need to remember to stop to smell the flowers. What if we take the time to notice the beauty and wonder of nature more often? What if we stop to appreciate how amazing nature is?

Appreciating The Wonders of Nature

The mere act of feeling appreciation has a positive effect on your mood and ability to deal with stress more effectively.

Feeling gratitude stimulates neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically dopamine and serotonin. These are the feel good neurotransmitters, so when they’re stimulated, guess what happens? Yep, you got it… you feel good!

Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter which works within the brain to send messages and instructions for the body. Specifically, this chemical affects mood, motivation, attention, movement, learning and emotional response. One of the effects of higher levels of dopamine is to view stressors as challenges to overcome instead of soul-crushing problems. I’d say that’s a positive mindset shift… Wouldn’t you agree?

Serotonin is another neurotransmitter. It sends signals between your nerve cells to affect mood, cognition, learning, memory and certain physiological responses. Higher levels of serotonin can result in feeling more happy, more calm and more focused. I know I love to feel happy, calm and focused. Who else wants more of that?

Read more about gratitude: Benefits of Gratitude & Gratitude Neuroscience: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain

A Forest Bath?

Did you know there is an emerging field called Forest Medicine? The effects of nature on the human body have been scientifically studied, with positive results and some of these studies are the basis for this relatively new field.

Yep, exposure to nature does indeed have benefits to you, both emotionally and physiologically!

Have you ever taken a forest bath? Maybe you have and don’t even know it. This study in 2010 was done to determine the effects of “forest bathing”, which is simply ‘making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest’. So, yea, you’ve probably done this at some point in your life… and if you haven’t, you’ll definitely want to put it on your list.

The study compared physiological effects for people who walked in the city versus those who walked in the woods. Each group of people was checked in both environments, on different days. The study found that the “forest bath” lowered pulse rate, blood pressure and cortisol (the stress hormone, which increases under stress). The “forest bath” also resulted in higher parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response while the parasympathic nervous system is responsible for “at rest” activities of the body, so these results indicate less stress.

Another study, A Guide to Nature Immersion: Psychological and Physiological Benefits, shows improvement mood after nature immersion via Guided Forest Therapy, which involves a series of sensory experiences done in nature.

Green schoolyards are shown to reduce stress and increase protective factors in kids from elementary school to adolescence. I would make the assumption, especially based on the results of other studies, that this natural environment would have a similar stress relieving and protective effect on adults as well.

Being in nature goes beyond stress relief and can even bring about greater satisfaction with life, so you can be happier, as shown in this study… The relationship between nature connectedness and happiness: a meta-analysis.

The surprising and impressive element about this nature theory is that it also works when the exposure is virtual. Photos, videos and virtual reality immersion seem to relieve stress the same as actually being in nature in real life, as shown by the study, Restorative effects of virtual natural settings.

How To Get More Nature and For How Long?

Now, if you’re going to take this “nature pill”, what is the best dose? We’re in luck, because another study was done to track the reduction in stress hormones over time.

To get the most bang for your buck in terms of maximizing stress relief for the amount of time spent, you’ll want to aim for at least 20-30 minutes in nature. This gives you the most effective dose of nature to lower stress hormone levels. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re being active in nature or simply sitting.

Incorporate time in nature into your daily routine to relieve and prevent stress.

  • Take a walk in nature
  • Go hiking
  • Take a bike ride
  • Create a bucket list of outdoor activities and destinations
  • Have your coffee and do some reading outside, whether it’s your own yard, a park or any space you can find that allows you to connect with nature. Use the time to connect to the divine with meditative prayer.

If you find yourself struggling to find time for nature…

  • Consider going more minimal and watching less television so you’re more inspired to get outside.
  • If you can, also consider an outdoor office or some way to work outside more.
  • You could also make your inside space more conducive to stress relief by adding nature artwork and playing nature videos or sounds in the background.

Do you have other ideas to incorporate more nature into your day to day?

What is your favorite way to appreciate nature?

Let us know in the comments below or pop over to our online community to share your thoughts.