Active Lifestyle and Connectedness to Nature as Important Resources for Stress Management and Resilience

Essay, 2017

9 Pages



1. Nature and natural environments as recreational areas

2. The lifestyle factors connectedness to nature and physical activity

3. The stress factors of exceeding demands and sensory overload

4. Stress management
a) Self-management and the cultivation of equanimity
b) Mental training and physical activity

5. Resilience promotion
a) The resilience factors self-efficacy and control / orientation
b) The resilience factor optimism


1. Nature and natural environments as recreational areas

Rooms of silence are rather rare nowadays (Hecht, 2015, p. 18), but there are havens of peace as sources of life energy as e.g. the tranquility of the nature (Hecht, 2015, p. 21). The brain can recover well in the low-stimulus environment of natural surroundings (Rössler, 2012, p. 21). This is also the core message of the psychoevolutionary theory, which defines nature as recreational area and source of strength (Wetzel, 2015, p. 56-59), whereas sensory overload makes unable to concentrate on what is essential (Gamma, 2015, p.37), but the thresholds are individually different.

By offering recreational areas and by creating meaningful experiences the surrounding nature can contribute to reduce levels of stress e.g. caused by sensory overload (Reinhardt, 2015). Achieving a state of relaxation can be supported by other methods, like e.g. meditation (Hohensee, 2014, p. 83). Relaxation, detachment from everyday problems, distraction management and a conscious handling of media use can contribute to a better balance and capacity in general (Rössler, 2012).

2. The lifestyle factors connectedness to nature and physical activity

Lifestyle factors such as physical activity and cultivation of equanimity can have positive effects on epigenetics (=external modifications to DNA that switch genes “on” or “off”) (Strunz, 2012, p. 17). It has been known for a long time that practising yoga has positive effects on physical and psychological health (Schäfer, 2015, p.72-75). There have been reported similar effects of meditative forms of running (Strunz, 2012, p.32) and meditation exercises in general (Rössler, 2012, p.47).

By practising meditation it is possible to achieve detachment from thoughts, feelings and actions (Hohensee, 2014, p. 83). To achieve equanimity through meditation exercises is something which is more or less independent of context and social roles possible (Hohensee, 2014, p.88). Insofar there are links to the need for orientation and control, which is discussed in the context of the resilience factor self-efficacy (Heller, 2013) and the theory of learned helplessness (Seligman, 1999).On a neurobiological level the underlying mechanisms of the described effect are explained by a stronger activation of the left prefrontal lobe of the brain in combination with an increase of gamma waves in the brain (Strunz, 2012, p. 26).

It could be demonstrated that access to natural surroundings such as recreational areas is an important factor in facilitating a healthy and balanced lifestyle (see e.g. Gobster and Buch­ner, 2010). It has also been shown that animal-assisted interventions have positive impacts on health by supporting an active lifestyle and by contributing to further positive effects on health relevant factors (see e.g. Johnson and Meadows, 2010).

3. The stress factors of exceeding demands and sensory overload

Chronic stress is associated with health impairments such as high blood pressure, heart failure, cancer, diabetes and depression (Ernst, 2015, p. 43). When the adrenal glands wear out dueto excessive secretion of adrenaline, chronic stress can lead to a state of chronic fatigue (Zentrum der Gesundheit, 2016). Overadaptation to the accelerated and digitalized world can lead to a state of overload with symptoms similar to those of ADHD (e.g. concentration problems, anxiety, emotional lability / irritability). In this respect multitasking and sensory overload by digital media can lead to a cognitive overload (Schäfer, 2015, p. 69). Dealing with mind-altering effects by advertisements and constant stream of media in a constructive manner can be challenging (Naish, 2008).

Information overload and constant media stream lead to an overexcitation of the consciousness (=chronic stress), whereby the vulnerability for this can be explained by an evolutionary biological mechanism of striving for more and more (=dopamine secretion), what can be counteracted by reducing digital overload and by a change of mind regarding values (e.g. appreciation of time, space and self-determination and a culture of sufficiency) (Naish, 2008).

4. Stress management

a) Self-management and the cultivation of equanimity

One of the goals of self-management in the context of coping and prevention of feelings of overload is to achieve a a state of increased equanimity and inner balance (Wehmeier, 2013). Self-management in this sense is aimed at creating harmony between contradictory demands (Wehmeier, 2013, p. 13). This is something which is particularly essential in difficult circumstances, as perceived uncontrollability dueto a lack of contingency of action and reaction can be decreased (Seligman, 1999).

Self-management as a process of problem solving is aimed at facilitating comprehension of complex problems and thereby creates a basis for a better handling of difficult situations (Wehmeier, 2013, p. 23). In more general terms one of the goals of effective self-management is supporting rules, which are helpful and essential for survival (Wehmeier, 2013, p. 61).

Mental mini-timeouts, a change of scene or learning a foreign language can be effective coping strategies against a feeling of overload; new and enjoyable impressions and experiences can contribute to new neuronal connections and to the brain’s own rewarding system (Rössler, 2012, p.12-14). In more general terms it could be said, that occasional daydreaming and mental mini-timeouts are important resources.

Kanfer, Reinecker and Schmelzer (2006, p.28) describe self-regulation, self-control and self-management as internal psychological processes for improving goal attainment and behaviour control. They believe that these processes are part of a framework: Environmental influences, cognitive processes and contents, genetical and biological factors. Further also current and past contingencies, values and sociocultural norms can influence psychological processes and behaviour. Perceived controllability and congruency of goals increase motivation and self-efficacy according to Kanfer, Reinecker and Schmelzer (2006, p.38).

An important aspect of self-management refers to forming and achieving goals. In modern approaches this process is differentiated in motivational and volitional components. Motivation is the process of forming goals and evaluating the consequences. Volition refers to resources in the areas of self-regulation and self-control, which facilitate goal attainment by contributing to a better way of coping with internal or external barriers (see e.g. Gollwitzer, 1999; Kuhl, 2001). In summary volition can be described as follows (Kehr, 2004, p. 485): “self-regulatory strategies, which facilitate explicit action tendencies against concurring impulses”.

b) Mental training and physical activity

Mental training on a regular base can have positive effects on mental and physical components, tension and self-motivation (Tönnies, 2006). Meditation exercises can promote relaxation and detachment from everyday problems and thereby have positive effects on brain structures (Rössler, 2012, p. 47-53).

Various findings confirm the positive effects of regular physical activity on cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors (see e.g.Lakka and Laaksonen, 2007; Zoeller, 2007).

Physical activity can buffer negative effects of stress by contributing to a decrease of the adrenaline levels (stress hormone). Therefore it is particularly important during times of high stress to be physically active on a regular base (Saum-Aldehoff, 2017). Running in a moderate pace (appropriate, relaxed heartbeat) contributes to lowering stress levels by reducing the secretion of cortisol (stress hormone) (Strunz, 2012, p. 91). Further positive effects of regular moderate running training on the cardiovascular system are: decrease of blood pressure, decrease of thrombose risk, prevention of diabetes (Strunz, 2012, p. 88-89), increase of the maximal heart beat volume and an economisation of the cardiac functions (Gumpert, 2016).

There is empirical evidence that moderate and regular weight training workouts have positive effects on energy, vitality and enjoying life and contribute to stress reduction and to a deceleration of age-related degenerative processes (Dargatz, 2006). The anti-aging effects can be summarized as follows (Dargatz, 2006, p. 44): better oxygene supply of the brain (=increase of alertness, concentration and creativity), reduction of the stress hormone adrenaline (=physically and psychologically more relaxed), better blood circulation of the body (=detoxification of cells, skin tightening). In addition cells of the immune system are activated, which are important for phagocytosis of bacteria, viral factors and cancer (Dargatz, 2006, p. 37).

In order to strengthen the beneficial effects of physical activity on health and to prevent potential stress provocing effects it is important to set achievable goals, as it could be demonstrated that investing time and energy in unattainable goals can affect mental health in a negative way and can cause symptoms like resignation (Reinhardt, 2015, p. 33). To set realistic goals and to accept own limits is a component of equanimity (Reinhardt, 2015, p. 30-35).

5. Resilience promotion

a) The resilience factors self-efficacy and control / orientation

According to Heller (2013, p.82) the need for orientation and control as an aspect of self-efficacy plays an important role for resilience and refers to the socalled sense of coherence (comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness). Opportunities for active coping and self-determination are important factors in this context (Heller, 2013, p. 82).

Experiences of uncontrollability on the contrary lead to a distorted perception of own controllability (Seligman, 1999, p. 34) and can have detrimental effects on motivational, cognitive and emotional factors (Seligman, 1999, p. 5). The fact that perceived control is an important factor for motivation and self-efficacy is often reported in the respective literature (see e.g. Kanfer, Reinecker and Schmelzer, 2006).


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Active Lifestyle and Connectedness to Nature as Important Resources for Stress Management and Resilience
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A German version of this essay is also available at Eine deutsche Fassung dieses Essays ist ebenfalls verfügbar unter
Resilience, Stress Management, Connectedness to Nature, Lifestyle
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Mirjam Peter (Author), 2017, Active Lifestyle and Connectedness to Nature as Important Resources for Stress Management and Resilience, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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