Nature is a free and easy way to reduce stress that many students do not take nearly enough advantage of. While finding time to go outside and take a walk, or a hike, or just sit in the sun, can be difficult, it is instrumental to student health.
During the 2012-2013 school year, 48.7% of students nationwide attended counseling for mental health concerns. This percentage has been increasing every year. Even scarier, 23.2% of students have intentionally injured themselves without suicidal intent, and 8.8% have made a suicide attempt. Considering 20.2 million students were enrolled in higher education as of 2015, this is an incredibly high number. The bottom line is that we’re stressed out.
One way that students can reduce their stress is by spending more time outside. Nature has not only proven to be a stress reliever, but also it has proven to make the brain function in a better and healthier way. As students, we can use all of the brainpower, vitamins, and relaxation that we can get.
Many students retreat to their rooms to play video games as a stress reliever, but they shouldn’t. Instead, reading a good book or doing some homework on the South Mall would be much more effective. People who live in environments with more green spaces are likely to have lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that produces stress. Spending as little as five minutes outside can reduce stress levels.
Taking a regular outdoor walk is better for one’s long term mental health. Studies at Stanford University found that people who take walks in nature see positive effects on their brain as opposed to those who walk in urban spaces. Studies have shown that looking at nature for short periods of time increases the brain’s ability to pay attention. Furthermore, exercise is proven to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exposure to sunshine increases levels of vitamin D, which improves muscle function, the immune system, and mood. Moreover, going outside makes one a better and healthier student.
Carmen Ortiz, nutrition and psychology junior, and public relations director for Longhorn Wellness, active member of Texas Nutrition, and intern for Longhorn fuel, explained that the positive effects of going outside are infinite. Not only does it lower stress and increase brain activity, she said, but it can also increase creativity.
“There are also studies that encourage walking barefoot in the grass, or Earthing, to encourage immunity, blood flow, and other body functions,” Ortiz said. “Along with objective studies, there are benefits for mental health. By stimulating your mind to the beauty of your natural surroundings, the possibility of clearing overbearing thoughts becomes higher. Therefore, you have more time to enjoy life and thrive in your circumstances rather than feel bogged down by negative thoughts.”
Austin is known for its outdoor spaces. If you can’t make it to Zilker Park, the 360 Overlook, or the Greenbelt, our own campus and surrounding areas are home to gorgeous green spaces. Try studying on the South Mall, taking a walk by Shoal Creek, or heading over to Mozart’s Coffee Roasters for a gorgeous view of Lady Bird Lake. If you have even less time, try strolling to class instead of speed-walking or riding a bike. There is no excuse not to get outside for at least a few minutes a day, and no downsides to the sun exposure and exercise that will inevitably occur.
Kashar is an English freshman from Scarsdale, New York. Follow her on Twitter @leahkashar.