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Walking for Stress and Anxiety


walk-and-talk therapy new jersey

By the end of this blog, you'll get a sense of how walking reduces stress. I'll also discuss what Walk-and-Talk Therapy is and provide practical tips for incorporating walking into your daily routine.


Walking for Stress and Anxiety

Walking is a tool in reducing stress and anxiety. Normally, the sympathetic nervous system activates the "fight or flight" response during threatening situations, while the parasympathetic nervous system facilitates relaxation and recovery afterward. However, prolonged stress or trauma can disrupt this balance, leading to ongoing activation of the sympathetic nervous system and persistent states of arousal. When we engage in walking, characterized by its rhythmic and repetitive nature, it triggers the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This prompts our body to shift towards a more balanced and regulated state, fostering relaxation and aiding in recovery from stress and trauma-related reactions. Ultimately, walking alleviates symptoms of stress and anxiety by regulating the nervous system's response.


Studies have shown that activities like walking can significantly reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body (Stonerock et al., 2015). This reduction in cortisol levels contributes to a sense of relaxation. Walking helps an individual shift focus away from the stressor or stressors to the steady rhythm of our bodies and our surroundings. This change in perspective allows our minds to unwind and our bodies to let go of tension.


Tips: Walking for Stress Relief

As a mental health professional, I frequently suggest walking as a strategy for managing stress and anxiety. Here are some tips I commonly share with my clients:


1. Set aside dedicated time: Make it a priority to schedule specific times for walking each day, aiming for 20-30 minutes. Consistency is key, so try to stick to your walking routine as much as possible.

2. Choose a peaceful environment: Opt for walking routes that offer tranquility and calmness. Nature trails, parks, or quiet neighborhoods can provide a serene backdrop.

3. Practice mindfulness: Use your walk as an opportunity to be fully present in the moment. Pay attention to the sensations of walking—the feeling of your feet on the ground, the rhythm of your breath, and the sights and sounds around you.

4. Focus on your breath: Incorporate breathing exercises into your walk. Try syncing your breath with your steps, inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth.

5. Engage your senses: Take in the sights, sounds, and smells of your surroundings as you walk. Notice the beauty of nature, listen to birds chirping, and breathe in the fresh air.

6. Practice gratitude: Use your walk to cultivate gratitude by focusing on things you're thankful for. Reflect on the positive aspects of your life, no matter how small, and allow them to uplift your mood as you walk.


What is Walk-and-Talk Therapy?

Research, by Gustafsson et al. (2015) in their study "Walking Effects on Stress and Affect: Mediating Roles of Social Support and Mood" published in Frontiers in Psychology, has highlighted the stress-reducing potential of integrating regular walks into one's daily routine. In the realm of psychotherapy, the emergence of Walk-and-Talk Therapy is not surprising.


Walk and Talk Therapy, just as the name implies, is a therapeutic approach where therapy sessions are conducted outdoors while walking. Rather than a traditional therapy room, both clients and therapists venture out into the streets, parks, or nature trails, embracing movement and the outdoors throughout the session.



Reference:


  • Gustafsson, H., Skoog, T., Podlog, L., Lundqvist, C., Wagnsson, S., & Kenttä, G. (2015). Walking Effects on Stress and Affect: Mediating Roles of Social Support and Mood. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1-10. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00724

  • Stonerock, G. L., Hoffman, B. M., Smith, P. J., & Blumenthal, J. A. (2015). Exercise as treatment for anxiety: systematic review and analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 49(4), 542-556.

  • Shapiro, F. (2014). The role of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in medicine: Addressing the psychological and physical symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences. The Permanente Journal, 18(1), 71.

  • Schaefer, C., Coyne, J. C., & Lazarus, R. S. (2010). The health-related functions of social support. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 4(4), 381-406.


If you are interested in learning about therapy or would like to setup an appointment with Person to Person Psychotherapy, serving New Jersey & New York residents, call 908-224-0007 or email Amanda Frudakis-Ruckel, LCSW at info@person2persontherapy.com



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