The medical community widely acknowledges the negative effects of stress on both physical and mental health. During this highly stressful time in our history, it is more important than ever to protect our health with activities that help reduce the effects stress can have on our overall wellbeing. Your outdoor living space can be the ideal place to turn off your mind, take a deep breath and at least temporarily let go of the stressful thoughts and activities that can weigh so heavily on us all.

Create Your Personal Zen Space

Whether on your patio, porch, deck or out in the yard, choose a spot in your outdoor space to designate as your relaxation spot. For the overall look, think organic. Incorporate natural elements like wood, plants, stones, water features and fire. Natural design elements will help you to connect with nature, decompress and release some of that stress out into the natural world. Furniture should be simple, but comfortable. Pillows can provide additional comfort — whether using a large pillow to sit directly on the ground or a smaller pillow to prop up your feet or support your lower back. Go with earthy colors and natural or light fabrics. Scents are important. You can add natural aromas to your zen space with either live plants, organic candles or essential oils. Lavender, rosemary and eucalyptus can all help calm the mind and alleviate stress. Citrus scents like lemon, orange or grapefruit can help to boost energy. Jasmine and vanilla are thought to help ease depression. Often, how our body responds to certain scents has to do with memories or body chemistry, so you may want to experiment to see which scents work best for you. It is also important to avoid clutter and electronic disturbances. When you’re decompressing, you can use your phone to play calming music or nature sounds, but otherwise consider putting it on do not disturb. Constant dinging or buzzing will only add to your stress level.

Stress-Reducing Benefits of Meditation and Yoga

Many cultures have long touted the calming benefits of meditation, whether through the form of prayer or simply through deep breathing exercises combined with focused thought. This heightened level of focus can eliminate the jumbled stream of thoughts that may be crowding the mind and raising stress levels. Meditation can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Yoga combines meditation and controlled breathing with stretches and physical poses, adding the additional benefits of increased flexibility and skeletal muscular strength. To get the most benefit, try to start or end your day with a meditation or yoga session in your zen space. Even short sessions of 15 or 30 minutes can go a long way in helping you lower stress levels — especially if you can manage to squeeze it in daily.

Never Underestimate the Power of a Good Book

Reading is another excellent decompression activity to do in your zen outdoor living space. Temporarily turn off the craziness of real world and throw your mind into a make-believe world of mystery, magic, intrigue or love. Sure, you can also step into a make-believe world by watching a movie, but that’s a passive activity. Reading the words and then conjuring the scenes and characters in your mind requires a more focused use of your brain. You can’t talk, text or play a game on your phone while you’re reading…not really. For best destressing results, don’t choose a book that has anything to do with topics or scenarios that mirror your top stressors. That totally defeats the purpose of mental escape.

Destressing with Outdoor Workouts

Although not necessarily a “zen” way to destress, exercise has been proven to reduce levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, and stimulate the production of endorphins that can elevate mood. It’s also a great way to refocus the mind. Aerobic exercises that you can do in your outdoor space include jump rope, squats, burpees, push-ups, crunches, “bicycles”, mountain-climbers, hops, side-shuffles and more. For workout routine ideas, check out this article on outdoor workouts from Shape magazine. Exercising outdoors also allows your body to soak up vitamin D from the sun, which can boost your immune system. Just be sure to wear sunscreen!

Your Outdoor Home Office

If you’re working at home on a temperate day, why not find a nice spot in your outdoor living room or dining area to set up shop? There’s currently a large movement in the commercial architectural and interior design industries centered on what’s known as biophilic design. Research has shown that incorporating natural elements into the built environment helps reduce stress, elevate mood and increase productivity. Think about all of the corporate buildings that have water walls, vertical gardens, bare wood or natural stone textures integrated into interior spaces. That’s why. If you’re working at home, take advantage of those biophilic benefits by working in a true natural environment. Just be sure to keep your work space and your zen space separate, if possible, so that you can properly shut your brain down when the work time is over.

The Outdoor Virtual Happy Hour

Zoom happy hours are all the rage. Social teleconferencing provides a way for people to reconnect, even when they can’t do so in person. The awesome thing is that geography doesn’t even matter. Groups can “happy hour” together from multiple time zones and catch up, laugh together or cry together — all vital human interactions that can relieve stress or help mentally process a stressful situation. And if you’re going to conduct a happy hour, why not do it in your outdoor living space? That’s likely where you’d hang out in person! It’s a much more relaxing environment. Just bring your device outside and Zoom away! Pro tip: it can be a little more difficult to hear outdoors, so you might want to use headphones if you have a pair with a built-in microphone that’s compatible with your device.

Reconnecting with Family Outdoors

Odds are your kids are stressed out, too. Even on a normal day, today’s kids have many more stressors in their lives than previous generations. As a whole, they’re over-involved, over-stimulated and over-stressed by the pressures of daily life. And they have no clue how to be bored. Make everyone put their devices down and destress as a family in your outdoor space. Simple activities like sidewalk chalking, cornhole tournaments or giant Jenga can be a great way to decompress together as a family. An outdoor movie night is another fun family activity. You can also have fun with food by organizing activities like a sundae bar, slider bar or build-your-own grilled pizza. You may even want to teach your kids how to meditate. It will help them to understand why it’s important for them to be quiet when you’re meditating in your zen space alone. Plus, if they can make disconnecting and focusing the mind part of their routine now, it can help keep stress levels from building up later. Keep in mind that their attention spans are shorter, so you may want to start with a 5 or 10-minute group meditation and work your way up to longer sessions.

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