Well-Being with Whitney: Walking Helps Thinking — Nature Walks and Stress

Facing uncertainty can be stressful. What will the lab results reveal about your health? Who will your friends be after you move to a new area? Which job will you end up getting? You may not be able to predict the future, but you can reduce the stress of uncertainty — and other types of stress — by taking a walk outside in nature.

Walking through a natural environment can change brain activity so people don’t ruminate on negative thoughts as much as they did before their nature walks, according to a research study by scientists from Stanford University and other organizations. The study showed that those who walked outside for 90 minutes experienced less stress as a result.

When we’re anxious about an unknown future, it’s easy to ruminate on those worries over and over. Stepping outside to enjoy a walk is a wonderful way to break that negative cycle.

I took a lot of nature walks when my husband was searching for a kidney donor for the lifesaving transplant he needed. Would he find someone willing to help, who was a compatible match, in time? The uncertainty and stress were intense. Prayer helped me cope, but so did walking, and I often found myself drawn to praying while walking outdoors.

On one of my nature walks, a thunderstorm suddenly moved in, and I watched how the trees around me handled the unexpected change. They swayed gracefully back and forth, staying firmly rooted in the ground while they endured rain soaking their trunks and wind blowing off some of their leaves. They stood strong in the face of whatever weather hit them and simply did their best to adjust to it.

Walking relaxed me enough to stop ruminating on my worries and learn a lesson from the trees. Every part of nature is constantly reflecting something about its Creator. As the Bible describes in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”.

Whenever you must face uncertainty, your stressful emotions may feel like a thunderstorm. But just like the weather, emotions are always changing. So take a nature walk and soak in the simple yet profound lessons that you can learn in the process — about accepting that you don’t know what will happen, but believing that something good will happen if you trust God, yourself, and others on your journey.

My husband did end up getting that lifesaving transplant — thanks to a caring, generous man from our church who donated a kidney to him. Something good can happen in your unknown future, too, when the timing is right. Until then, walking outside can help you move forward with less stress and more confidence.

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