The holidays. Gotta love ‘em, but boy, can they take a toll on you if you don’t look out.
When else in the year do we pile on so many extra financial demands, loads of rich and fatty food, excess alcohol, commercial hype, and overextended schedules at once, and top it off by packing as many family members as we can under a single roof and seeing how long they can go without someone poking out an eye? All this during the darkest days of the year when seasonal depression and anxiety are at their peak. No wonder 62% of Americans polled in a recent Healthline survey say they experience mild to severe levels of stress during the holidays.
Well, someone along the line somewhere thought it was a good idea, so now we have to make the best of it. Many of us go into couch-potato mode, flopping in front of the TV with comfort food and drink in hand. Others go frenetic: shopping, partying, and wrapping ‘till we drop. Or a little of both.
But there are ways to handle holiday stress that don’t make us fat or kill brain cells. And one is to leverage the power of the landscape to calm and rejuvenate body and mind. Here are a few suggestions you can try:
4 Ways to Use Your Landscape to Fight Holiday Stress
1. Try forest bathing.
Don’t worry, you won’t need your swim suit. Just mute your phone and head for your nearest natural area. “Forest bathing” is a rough translation of the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, which basically means hanging around outside in nature. The idea is to go to a wooded area without an agenda, just spending time strolling about and enjoying the sight, sound, textures, smells, and even tastes of the trees and forest.
It sounds childishly simplistic, and it is. Children are, in fact, naturals at it. But researchers are finding that forest bathing has significant positive effects on mental and physical health. The practice has been found to reduce levels of stress hormones, reduce blood pressure, and enhance immune system activity—all great for keeping holiday stress and anxiety in check.
The good news is, you don’t have to find a patch of wilderness to practice forest bathing. A nicely landscaped city park or corporate campus will do, or even your own backyard. Just head for the nearest patch of trees and chill out for a bit. (And if that patch of trees happens to contain a stream or pond, and you just happen to have a fishing pole in your trunk, so much the better.)
2. Take a deep breath.
Deep breathing is well documented to help calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety. Doing it outside in the landscape can greatly enhance that effect. First of all, you’ve got the fresh outdoor air going for you: since indoor air is often 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air, any time you can take yourself outside to breathe you’re giving your body a break.
But it’s not just a matter of fresh air. The soil and plants themselves contain substances that actively help us feel better when we’re outside.
Take M. vaccae, for example. It’s a soil microbe that works very much like antidepressant pills to boost levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the body. Many trees, too, emit compounds that reduce the effects of stress.
Bring the landscape indoors.
When staying outdoors isn’t an option, we can always bring the landscape in. The Christmas tradition of bringing evergreen trees and branches indoors is of course a great way to bring the stress-reducing effects of the landscape inside. So don’t pass up on that holiday wreath this year!
You can also use essential oils to good effect: the familiar holiday scents of pine, cedar, peppermint and ginger are all believed to help relieve stress.
But researchers say that even just quietly looking at photos of a beautiful landscape has beneficial effects. In one study, groups of participants were asked to take breaks from work by walking in a park, walking down a busy city street, or looking at pictures of nature. While not quite as effective as actually walking in nature, the photos gave participants a significantly greater cognitive boost than walking in the city.
So try breaking out those photos of last summer’s garden flowers next time you feel overwhelmed this holiday season. Or, think forward to next year and consider how you might re-design the landscape outside your windows to give yourself a stress-busting view next winter. I personally get a boost just looking at the sumptuous catalogs from Frontiers Travel. Try a visit to www.frontierstravel.com for a sure stress-buster. Better yet, let them plan a trip for you.
4. Get creative. Exercising our creativity is another excellent and well-researched way to reduce stress and boost mood. And the landscape offers loads of opportunity to let your creative side shine. Try taking a nature hike and seeing how many interesting natural objects you can collect to make holiday wreaths or bouquets. Think grapevines, bittersweet, feathers, pine cones, and twigs, along with fruits such as rose hips and evergreen branches such as pine, holly, or even magnolia or rhododendron. Or, have fun with outdoor decorating. String Christmas lights outside, or turn a summer planter into a holiday display with evergreen boughs and a big red bow.
So there you go. Next time you find yourself in a tizzy over the holidays, remember that relief is just outside the door. Your landscape can help reduce holiday stress in so many ways, and it’s cheaper than a therapist. Give it a try.
Happy (Stress-Free) Holidays From T. Lake
But in the event that you notice something in the landscape itself getting your dander up—for instance, if you can’t see traffic coming because of overgrown shrubs, or you’re tired of that low spot in your drive that freezes into an icy puddle on cold winter nights, or the falling leaves have revealed a big widow maker in your old oak tree—just give us a call. We’ll get you taken care of, so you can enjoy your holiday with one less thing to stress over.