Five ways living in the country can give you a huge boost in your health by reducing daily stress levels.
Traffic, noise, fighting the crowds, breathing in polluted air, and unending stimuli. It’s no wonder city life is often considered stressful, and why many families are choosing to “escape the grind” by returning to a simpler life in the country.
But is rural living, with its own set of challenges, really less stressful than city life?
As it turn out, yes. Living away from the hustle and bustle of the city can significantly reduce our stress, and benefit our mental and emotional health—especially in children born and raised in city environments.
In a recent study published in Nature magazine scientists found those who lived in cities had:
- a 21% increase in mood disorders;
- a 39% increase in anxiety disorders; and
- double the risk of having schizophrenia as those living in rural areas.
Why is this the case?
MRI scans performed on the study’s urban-dweller subjects revealed an increased activity in the amygdala region of the brain, which plays a key role in emotions such as fear and anxiety, and the release of stress-related hormones.
With relation to children born and raised in cities, the MRI scans showed an increased activity in the area of the brain that helps regulate the amygdala region. The study showed children raised in the city are more likely to have a permanently heightened sensitivity to stress than those who move to a city later in life.
I remember when I moved from Atlanta to New York City to attend cooking school, how much more “hyper,” “hurried,” and “on guard” I felt most of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love NYC, and at age 21 I embraced and thrived in its energy and excitement. But when I would return home to visit, I could feel my body decompress, relax, and kind of sink into a more balanced place.
Given that I grew up in a very rural environment, I now understand why.
So, what can you do to help your family shed the pressures of city life and break free from the habits of stress?
Here are five ways to recover your emotional freedom and rediscover a more balanced state of being in the country:
1. Embrace the silence---live longer
When we think of pollution, a major problem in most American cities, we usually envision a smoggy haze draped over a bustling city with air quality alerts being broadcast over the radio and on freeway signs. But that’s not the only type of pollution urban dwellers should be concerned about.
Noise pollution has also been deemed a serious public health issue.
Studies have linked common urban noise, from city traffic or aircraft to stress-related illness, hearing loss, disturbed sleep patterns, and as a contributing factor in many forms of cardiovascular disease.
A major benefit of part-time or full-time country living is a chance to detoxify your hearing, de-stress, and settle your nerves.
Meditation is a perfect way to embrace silence, reduce stress, and reconnect with yourself.
Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting on a yoga mat in lotus position (so uncomfortable!) and chanting “ohm.” It just means being quiet and focusing on releasing your worries, thoughts, and stress.
You can do this by taking a walk in the woods, sitting on the front porch and enjoying the sunset, writing in a journal, or lying on a blanket under the stars.
There’s no “wrong way” to embrace silence, and when you live on acreage it’s surprisingly easy to lose yourself (in a meditative way) in nature’s quiet beauty.
2. SPEND PLENTY OF TIME OUTDOORS EVERY DAY
We’ve touched on how time spent in the great outdoors benefits our physical, mental, and emotional health before.
And with a growing body of research backing its benefits, there’s just no refuting it—human beings thrive in nature.
According to an article published on the University of Minnesota’s website, time spent in nature can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones. The same article cites a study on how the sights of nature (like trees and plants) can help reduce post-operative pain…pretty cool.
Spending time outdoors with the family will help everyone get enough green exercise, refocus, breathe in that cleansing fresh air, get centered, and provide the kids plenty of opportunity for free play.
Bottom line, get outside as much as possible (rain or shine).
3. EXERCISE GREEN
Yes, exercise reduces stress and is beneficial for our health no matter what the setting.
But outdoor exercise provides a myriad of emotional health benefits that indoor or “gym” exercise cannot.
According to an article published in Psychology Today, outdoor or green exercise “makes people happier, less fatigued and angry, more tranquil and relaxed, and bestows a more lasting energy boost compared to indoor exercise.”
Outdoor exercise also helps boost self-esteem and mood and helps us feel more connected with the world around us.
4. Set your kids free through unstructured play
According to a recent government study as reported by Healthday News, 1 in 13 American children are taking psychiatric medication.
When I read that I was absolutely dumbfounded…and frankly a little ticked off.
What on earth is happening to our kids? And why aren’t we demanding answers as to the root cause of their pain?
A growing body of evidence, as presented in such books at “Simplicity Parenting,” “The Overscheduled Child,” and through the American Academy of Pediatrics, points toward a lack of free time and free play as contributing factors to the decline of our children’s mental and emotional health.
Time to play, time to be creative without structure, expectations or adult interference, time to just “be” seems to be absolutely essential to a child’s normal development, and helps solidify and nurture the parent-child bond.
In his book, Simplicity Parenting, author Kim John Payne equates a child’s emotional and mental state during free play to that of monks deep in meditation.
A happy, healthy childhood is supposed to be simple, unstructured, and fun. Yet, with the best intentions of “enriching” their experience, we’ve complicated their lives and they are suffering for it.
A rural homestead provides the perfect setting for endless hours of exploration, imagination, and unstructured, unplanned, uninterrupted, kid-friendly mucking around.
For ideas on how to help your kids rediscover free play, check out my previous article, 13 unstructured playtime ideas to get the kids outside.
And if you think too much time spent on free play won’t help your kids “get ahead”, this study proved time spent outdoors enhances a child’s emotional IQ.
5. MAKE BEING SOCIAL A PRIORITY
Living in the country can be great for getting your “zen” on and adopting a more independent, self-sufficient lifestyle.
But if you’re not careful it can get a little lonely...especially if you’re working exclusively from home.
If you think a little loneliness is no big deal, think again. A recent study from Brigham Young University proved loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day and being an alcoholic.
To stay social in the country, you may have to put in a little more effort and reach out a little bit further.
If you’re a young parent, join a mom’s club, frequent your local farmers’ markets, set up play dates for your kids and invite their parents. You can join the PTA, take advantage of your church’s social activities, volunteer locally, network with other farmers, take a course at the local community college. If you run your own hobby farm—why not offer workshops or apprenticeships to the local community?
A gorgeous piece of property is a gift, share it often with friends and family.
As you can see, a rural, outdoor lifestyle provides the perfect “environmental therapy” for us to truly slow down, reclaim our sense of being, and reconnect deeply and meaningfully with the ones we love.
For our children, this appears to be more essential than ever as their young bodies, minds, and hearts are so open and vulnerable to the pace we set for our lives.
The research and studies cited within this piece surely serve to validate what many of us have suspected, or inherently known: that a slower-paced life spent close to nature is a healthier and happier life indeed.
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