Autumn is upon us here in Melbourne and as the sunlight dims, the trees lose their colour, and the temperature drops, we too can start to feel a little lacklustre.
Autumn is symbolic of change, preservation, balance, and reconnection. A visual cue that there is beauty in letting go, of transformation and growth. Typically, people would preserve their crops for the coming cooler months. Reconnect with family and work together, harvesting to store food for winter- a deep connection to the land and each other. Historically, humans were in sync with the seasons and worked with the changes rather than trying to combat and overcome the natural state of things.
It's our modern lives, a society reliant on technology that creates a greater disconnection from our own cyclic patterns with nature. To flow innately with the change of the seasons is to reconnect with our internal compass-Our natural state of being. This disconnection is what ails us, to reconnect is the salve.
Amanda stands atop the granite boulders at the summit of Mt Oberon, Wilsons Promontory.
The Australian Psychological Society terms Anxiety as “a natural and usually short-lived reaction to a stressful situation, associated with feelings of worry, nervousness or apprehension.”
Typically presenting in challenging or unfamiliar situations where the person may feel inadequate to accomplish the task or feel uncertain of the outcome. Anxiety affects over 2 million Australians each year, with approximately 14% of the population experiencing anxious thoughts, feelings, or physical symptoms that are severe, upsetting, frequent, and interrupting daily life.
These incessant feelings of stress and anxiety can start to negatively impact not only our mental health but negatively impact our physical health and overall well-being too. It is estimated about 45% of Australians may experience mental illness at some point in their lives.
** It is important that if this sounds like you, help is available. Resource and contacts are supplied below
Human connection is a basic need to support well-being. A group of women hiking the trails of the Prom
We know that experiencing anxiousness constantly isn't good for us but did you know that not only do we suffer psychologically, but the physical effects on our bodies can also stack up and lead to some serious health issues?
Effects Of Anxiety & Stress On The Body
Stress and anxiety affect the physical body more than you may realize, it may present as any or a combination of the following symptoms.
· Headaches and in severe cases migraines
· Muscle tension or pain – mostly reported in the upper back/ shoulders and neck
· Nausea or digestive issues – this is due to the gut-brain connection that runs between the vagus nerve
· Fatigue, Insomnia and restless sleep – ruminating over events or anxious about tomorrow's workload
· Lowered libido- no or little sexy time with a loved one can lower feelings of well-being and connectedness
· Cognitive – poor concentration, memory retention, and focus on a task
· Physical marks – nail biting, hair pulling in severe cases TTM (Trichotillomania) - hair pulling
Anxiety and stress can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behaviour. It is important to recognize how anxiety symptoms show up for you so you can positively manage them and prevent health diseases not just immediately but greatly reduce your risk in the future. Stress/Anxiety that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes so it's important to recognise how anxiety shows up for you in order to positively manage them.
How Hiking In Nature Helps
Stepping outside, our walks are characterized by the hues of red, orange, and yellow leaves, signaling the end of their lives. The warmth and beauty of these colours, provide the opportunity to experience death as beautiful, as a natural part of the life-death cycle, and to practice the appreciation of beauty in nature.
When we view natural elements and find beauty in the details, we are cultivating an internal narrative of gratitude, and acceptance and this greatly improves our well-being as this echoes into other elements of our lives.
Exploring the trails is a great anxiety management strategy as regular physical exercise has been shown to reduce stress, and anxiety and promote feelings of well-being, whilst reducing blood pressure, supporting the immune system, and increasing energy.
Hikers walk through lush Greens Bush on the Mornington Peninsula that forms part of the 26km Two Bays Trail
Studies from the University of Essex in the UK have found that exercising outdoors surrounded by green makes us happier, and less tired and gives us a longer-lasting energy boost Than when we exercise indoors. The study also shows
· We feel better about ourselves when we exercise outdoors.
· Positive effects of green exercise can be felt quicker than if we trained indoors.
· Small bouts of outdoor exercise have a greater impact on our mood.
· People found it easier and more attractive to exercise outdoors.
· We enjoy it more. (the more we enjoy something, the more likely we are to repeat behaviours)
· Any outdoor space (city parks) can be beneficial and seeing both blue (water/sky) and greens have the greatest benefits
It would be remiss of me to suggest that hiking alone would provide the sole answer to reducing your anxiety. Like our health, it takes a multifaceted approach to balanced holistic health.
Other helpful techniques and strategies to manage anxiety and stress.
· Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, or massage
· Keeping a sense of humour, laughter truly is the best medicine.
· Spending time with family and friends – connection is important so likeminded people on a hike is a great way to connect if you find yourself away from friends and family
· Carving out time daily/ weekly for your hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music, creating something with your hands, gardening
· Ensure you get plenty of sleep with no devices 1 hour before you lay down your head
· Avoid alcohol (it worsens anxiety in the body)
· Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Fermented foods are great to restore the healthy gut microbiome in the body which is where your serotonin is modulated – this is your feel-good hormone.
· Be mindful to avoid stimuli like Netflix, gaming, or social scrolling as these are anxiety-inducing devices – even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Trail time can be as easy as a mindful stroll bringing your awareness to your senses as you move through the natural environment. What can you see near and far? What birds, animals, or natural sounds can you hear? How do they make you feel? Tune in, autumn has a different soundscape.
It could be a little more challenging, short-lived stress to the body, of hill climbs for an awe-inspiring view from the top. This type of stress to the body is beneficial and helps to develop strength and resilience in the body and mind. The physical aspects of it tune up your health while being in nature will speak to calm the busy mind.
The cooler months of autumn provide a more comfortable adventure experience, over the heat of the summer sun. During the autumn, the hours of day and night are equally balanced, affording the opportunity to explore within. The onset of the hibernation mindset allows us to bring awareness to any shifts and changes that we need to make within ourselves to shed, transform and grow.
Autumn is the perfect time to explore Victoria’s great outdoors and just how calm and rejuvenated you feel after a walk in nature. If you're keen to learn more about how nature supports health, check out what we’ve got coming up.
Statistics dervied from Mental health | Australian Bureau of Statistics (abs.gov.au)