Chronic low grade stress is an epidemic effecting every age group and demographic in our industrial society.
In the body this manifests as a tight knot of muscle tension in the solar plexus – just below the rib cage and above the navel. Many people do not know life without this feeling.
It is a constant companion.
Accompanying this tightness are: increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
Here then is some of the data gathered by researchers in Japan where most of the investigations have taken place:
Heart Rate Variability
Some background: When my sympathetic nervous system is engaged my heart beats in an extremely efficient and regimented predictable manner - ready to make the most of each beat to maximize efficiency of physical output should I need to fight for my life or flee from danger. So, the sympathetic "fight or flight" state equals a lower Heart Rate Variability.
Conversely, when I am relaxed, resting and digesting, my parasympathetic nervous system is engaged. My heart rate in this state is variable - not predictable. My heart does not need to maximize efficiency when I am feeling safe and relaxed - it can afford a few late beats or early ones that are not "on time". So a higher Heart Rate Variability shows I am more relaxed, that my parasympathetic nervous system is engaged.
Here's a graph from some of the research on Heart Rate Variability in subjects exposed to a forest environment vs. an urban environment.
The forest environment increased HRV in subjects meaning that their parasympathetic nervous system was engaged, meaning that they were more relaxed there.
Cortisol is a hormone that is released when the body undergoes stress.
Here is a graph from the research showing the differences in subject's cortisol levels in the forest vs. the city:
In the forest subjects cortisol levels were lower. They were more relaxed.
Heart Rate - Beats Per Minute (BPM)
When I am nervous or stressed my heart beats faster. An increased heart rate is indicative of an activated sympathetic/fight or flight nerve response.
Forest=lower heart rate=less stress
City=increased heart rate=more stress
Consistent with lower Heart Rate Variability and increased heart rate is increased blood pressure. Here is the blood pressure graph from the research:
Forest=lower blood pressure
City=higher blood pressure
Here’s the story, chronic low grade stress is dangerous. Really dangerous.
It contributes to most forms of heart disease, cancer and psychological disorders. It causes people to die many years before they should. It wears out the system – burns it out. It’s a real good idea to prevent or manage it. Most allopathic solutions have been of a pharmaceutical nature— many of which come with side effects.
Mindful time in nature can alleviate many of the symptoms of chronic low grade stress. When a person walks into a forest or other natural landscape and slows down, looks around, appreciates where they are, opens their senses and just focuses on BEING – these symptoms subside.
But you already knew that.
Now you have some graphs and numbers to back that up.