MONMOUTH COUNTY PARK SYSTEM

These days, it’s all too easy to get stuck in an endless cycle of worry, our thoughts consumed by things we can’t control. During the worst days of the pandemic, most of us were stuck at home interacting with technology at all hours of the day and night. Even now, if we don’t give ourselves a chance to decompress, all that time indoors on electronic devices can take a toll.

Luckily, a powerful healing resource is widely available, and it’s free for the taking. An important form of self-care, immersion in nature revitalizes our overscheduled minds and weary souls. Spending time in the natural world is a way to counteract the effects of screen time and de-stress, a therapeutic buffer for the chaos of our modern world.

With its numerous physical and mental health benefits, nature elevates our overall well-being. Research shows exposure to nature decreases anxiety and increases working memory and cognition, making it easier to manage the stress that life throws our way. By consciously connecting with nature, we open our senses to its calming energy, says Julia Scalise, Ph.D, a Margate-based holistic health practitioner and naturologist.

“Hiking in natural settings enhances not only physical well-being but emotional and physiological wellness as well,” Scalise says. “Many studies show improvements in blood pressure, immunity and mood all by spending time in nature. Most people express an increase in feelings of calm and joy.”

To reap nature’s full benefits, slow down and pay deliberate, mindful attention to your surroundings, says Shannon Albarelli, Ph.D, a Summit-based clinical psychologist and certified mindfulness and meditation instructor. “In meditation, we speak about a ‘beginners mind,’ where you look at the world as if you were seeing it for the first time,” Albarelli says. “This is a great way to experience nature.”

“Nature is innately healing in that it connects us to something larger than ourselves. It holds space for us to slow down and be in awe and wonder. I always feel more grounded and clearer after [walking] in nature,” she says.

New Jersey is bursting with beautiful, easy-to-access outdoor hiking spots. The next time you’re in need of a mind-body refresh, check out our list of great spots to hike around the state. 

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