Beat Stress: Head Outdoors!

By Elizabeth R. Kovar M.A.

Photo at right: Sometimes just getting outdoors can reduce your stress level. Here, a hiker enjoys an upclose encounter with Mount Rainier. Photo by Josh Crites

If you’re a runner, you’ve heard the term, “Runner’s high” when you reach that certain endorphin state. Same can be said of spending time outdoors which can reduce your stress level and keep you healthier in the long run.

Stress is now considered by some to be America’s number one health problem, according to the American Institute of Stress. Defining stress is challenging, however, due to the fact that every individual interprets stress differently.

Throughout daily living people may experience positive or negative stress, but the negative stress is what affects people over time. Without stress management tools, long-term stress may eventually lead to illness or disease. However, one solution to stress is as simple as getting outdoors.

Examples of negative stress include work conflicts, relationship interactions, divorce, technological difficulties or financial insecurity. However, what one individual finds stressful, may be energizing to another. Stress is individualistic in terms of definition, and cause and effect.

Heading outdoors is a natural and healthy way to manage stress and can be a mental getaway from life or just a part of one’s balanced lifestyle.

Steve Lenz, a local production artist, encounters stress from trying to meet life’s daily demands. He manages his stress through outdoor photography.

“I grab my camera and with little thought for a specific destination, set off wandering around for hours, first in my car, then, when inspired, on foot,” says Lenz. “I’m like a kid following a trail of candy as I go from interesting thing to thing.”

Restoring your mind naturally

De-stress with a hike along Skyline Divide Trail at Mount Baker. Photo by Elizabeth Kovar

Human movement, especially through aerobic exercise, relieves stress through increasing oxygen circulation throughout the body and releasing endorphins from the brain.

Endorphins are hormones that enable a person to experience a euphoric state, which assists emotional and mental stress. Minds and bodies can be restored by getting in touch with nature. Observing nature’s creations, like mountain peaks and vast oceans, can have a spiritual effect or awakening on people.

In addition, being present in “another world” allows individuals to escape daily stressors.

“Photography is rewarding because it is similar to a treasure hunt,” Lenz says. “It appeals to a basic instinct that is rewarding, and I am rewarded with amazing photos.”

The Pacific Northwest contains a wealth of restorative landscapes for residents and travelers to enjoy each season. Fortunately, these local and national lands are located either right out our back door or a short drive away.

There is something magical about spending time outdoors. This concept is best stated through conservationist, John Muir, who said, “Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Elizabeth Kovar is a Seattle fitness professional and educator and freelance writer. Submit questions and comments to Kovar at
For more: The American Institute of Stress,

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