It is often said that Western medicine is good at treating acute disease but often poor regarding preventative healthcare. Living in a society full of stress-inducing distractions, we often lose touch with the most simple and ancient techniques for stress relief.
One technique that we love is earth grounding. This is when you allow yourself to contact the earth outside as a grounding exercise that has many health benefits, unsurprisingly. For the scientifically minded, It’s entirely possible to engage in a regular grounding practice that’s 0% “woo woo.”
Have you taken a moment recently to walk barefoot in the grass or on the beach? Feels good, right? It’s not just your imagination. Studies have measured the stress-reducing capabilities of spending time in nature. There needs to be a much bigger body of research. Still, the small studies that have been conducted thus far indicate there might be positive effects regarding inflammation, cardiovascular disease, muscle damage, chronic pain, and even mood.
It is said that our ancestors developed adaptations to save them from danger. When faced with a threat, our sympathetic nervous system activates.
This process is often called “fight, flight, or freeze.” Our heart rate increases, pupils dilate, and our systems are flooded with stress hormones Adrenaline and cortisol. It’s a helpful adaptation when running from a predator and can save you from danger. But what if your nervous system is activated constantly because your stack of unanswered emails is too high? What do you do when you can’t get your nervous system to calm down?
Enter grounding. Find a patch of grass or a park nearby and try standing barefoot in the grass. Close your eyes and breathe, counting 5 seconds in, 5 seconds out. This same exercise works in dirt or sand. If you don’t have access to any of these, find the nearest tree you can and rest your hand on the trunk. People walking by might call you a “tree hugger,” but that will be their loss.
Water also seems to possess incredible healing powers. Swimming in cold water is known to decrease inflammation. Warm water also has its benefits, increasing blood flow and reducing muscular tension. Next time you are really stressed, try taking a swim and float on your back, looking at the sky. If you can bring yourself to relax completely, it feels almost like a sensory deprivation chamber as you float there weightless.
Studies have shown that simply making contact with nature every day in this way can act as a powerful nervous system reset. The chain reaction that calms you down is called the Parasympathetic Nervous System, otherwise known as “rest and digest.” We often encounter too many artificial stimuli in our daily lives for this system to function properly. We did not evolve to stare at blue light screens all day and live in constant anxiety about our careers. Many of us are also dealing with healing from trauma, which any number of experiences can trigger. Incorporating simple practices like grounding, breathing exercises, and meditation can help shorten the half-life of stress and get your nervous system back on track.
This brings us back to the subject at hand. Why does our culture devalue wellness? We all understand the value of hard work, and of course, any approach to healthcare and wellness should be guided by science and the understanding of data. But we intuitively feel deeply healed and relaxed by experiences in nature. Our ancient intuition, bred into us by centuries of selection and adaptation, makes us feel good. Our systems flood with serotonin and dopamine when we stare into the grand canyon. Oxytocin swells when we cuddle with a puppy. We shouldn’t be afraid to listen to what our bodies are telling us. Work will be there tomorrow; let yourself feel good today.