Can Going Outside be the Key to Reducing Stress?

Many of the studies we’ve conducted at the Microcredit Summit have indicated a clear relationship between the impact of finance and the effect on health. There is a clear correlation, and one of the plausible explanations that microfinance leads to better health is stress.

When people are in debt, suffering through poverty or going through difficult times, stress can negatively impact their health. The human body reacts to stress by producing hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, which create a “fight or flight” response. It is the body’s way of protecting itself from potential danger.

Our organization’s mission is to lift millions out of poverty through microfinance. However, if microentrepreneurs who start in poverty are too stressed to even begin their businesses, they’ll fall into a negative cycle of stress begetting poverty, and poverty causing more stress. So lately much of our research has been centered around discovering easy ways to reduce stress at that inflection point, so that microentrepreneurs in the developing world can break the cycle and lift themselves out of poverty.

As it turns out, one of the simplest ways to reduce stress is simply by going outdoors on a regular interval. Just a few minutes outside makes a huge difference. However, spending more extended periods outdoors hiking, biking, gardening, and doing other outdoor activities is even better. Here are some reasons going outside can reduce stress. 

1. Going Outside Helps to Clear the Mind

When stress is overwhelming, it can help to step outside for a minute. Clearing the mind makes it easier to focus, and being outside helps to reduce any distractions within the home or office. No matter what time of day or night, taking in nature is beneficial. 

2. Being Outdoors Lowers Cortisol

When people spend time outside, cortisol levels are lower. A reduction in cortisol is essential to manage stress. When cortisol levels are high, it is challenging to maintain proper mental and physical health. Everything seems more overwhelming, and the pressure builds up as time goes on.

3. The Sun Helps to Regulate Sleep 

Sunlight helps with the production of melatonin, a vital hormone that regulates sleep and protects the body from oxidative stress. While the body does not produce melatonin until it is dark, without enough light during the day, the body produces less melatonin when it is time to go to sleep. 

As people age, their body creates less of this essential hormone, so it becomes more difficult to sleep. Too much adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine also make it difficult to drift into a peaceful slumber at night. Lack of sleep makes everything seem more overwhelming. So during times of stress, it is essential to boost melatonin and get a full night’s sleep. 

Spending some time outdoors during the day leads to increased melatonin production, which helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and insomnia. 

4. Being Outside Helps Facilitate Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that involves getting out of one’s mind and focusing on the here and now. It helps to slow down racing thoughts most people have when they are experiencing increases in stress. 

Being outside helps to facilitate mindfulness because there are fewer distractions outdoors. When an individual takes a walk or connects with nature by sitting under a tree, it is easy to be mindful of the way the earth smells, the sounds animals are making, and the way the sun and wind feel. 

5. Being Outdoors Reduces Mental Fatigue 

When stress levels are already high, mental fatigue or a tired brain makes everything worse. It makes it very difficult to think clearly or get anything done. Spending time outdoors helps to reduce mental fatigue. During a project or a difficult task, taking a break for a few minutes outside can make a massive difference in productivity. 

6. Sunlight Makes the Brain Release Serotonin 

When sunlight hits part of your eye, it causes your brain to release serotonin. Serotonin is known as a “feel-good hormone.” This vital hormone is associated with decreased depression, reduced stress, and a better sense of well-being. Increased serotonin reduces stress hormone levels in the body. 

7. Spending Time Outside Improves Physical Health

Stress levels increase when people have poor health. Inflammation, pain, and the general feeling of being unwell are all cause people to worry. While experiencing pain, it is difficult to focus on other crucial tasks. So, feeling better is critical for reducing stress. 

According to the Journal of Environmental Psychology, spending time outdoors increases vitality and energy levels. So, it is easier for people to be physically active outside and to maintain physical activity for more extended periods. 

It is also believed that sunlight might help patients to overcome illnesses. During the 1918 flu pandemic that took the lives of millions of people, patients were given “open-air treatment.” Those treated outdoors had a much lower mortality rate than the patients treated inside. 

There is also some evidence throughout history that shows patients with injuries improve faster when they spend time outside; their overall well-being also improves. 

8. Spending Time Outside Improves Self Confidence 

Those who suffer from lower confidence levels are more likely to experience stress relating to social gatherings and their ability to handle challenging situations. Spending time outdoors helps to increase self-confidence. So, spending time outdoors can improve one’s self-esteem and lower stress. 

The Bottom Line

During stressful times it is quick, easy, and affordable to go outdoors. It does not matter what the level of physical activity is or even how long an individual spends outside. The benefits are significant when it comes to dealing with all types of stress. We’ll be adding regular outdoor activity to our best practices for microentrepreneurs.

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