Science tells us that walking alleviates stress and anxiety better than almost anything else.

The amygdala, which is one of the oldest and and most primitive parts of the human brain, controls anxiety as well as decision making. (Which is why making decisions often creates anxiety.) Apparently, however, the amygdala can’t multitask very well. So when we walk, we distract our anxious amygdala. This is why walking eases stress.

But when we walk in nature, it gets even better!

Studies from Japan (where they participate in something they call forest bathing) show that trees and plants actually emit aerosols that calm our minds. Not only that, when you walk someplace where you feel awe — such as the ocean, the mountains, a rushing river, someplace with a great view or where you can enjoy the sunset or sunrise — you release oxytocin, also known as the Love hormone.

All of these reasons are why walking is so great for stress.

But the fact of the matter is that reading about scientific studies at a time when we’re stressed doesn’t always get us out the door. Sometimes we’re just too stressed to be able to input facts. 

That’s why this week’s EverWalk blog takes a different approach to reminding us about the stress-relieving qualities of walking. 

This week’s blog is all poems and pictures — because they go in deeper and differently than facts and figures. And since one of the few things we can all do in these challenging times is to get out and walk, we hope these images and ideas will inspire you to get out into Nature and move your feet, look at a tree, and feel some awe to release some stress when you need it most!

So let’s start with Rumi, who has written perhaps the perfect EverWalk poem for these times:

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.

Don’t try to see through the distances.

That’s not for human beings.

Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.

Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.

Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Caspar David Friedrich

(courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke captures how even the simplest and most familiar walks can transform us in mysterious ways:

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.

going far beyond the road I have begun,

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

it has an inner light, even from a distance-

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,

into something else, which, hardly sensing it,

we already are; a gesture waves us on

answering our own wave…

but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Vincent Van Gogh

(courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Poet and philosopher David Whyte leads walking tours all over the world. This poem about Ireland pretty much says everything about what we feel when we walk in extraordinary places in Nature.


Be infinitesimal under that sky, a creature
even the sailing hawk misses, a wraith
among the rocks where the mist parts slowly.
Recall the way mere mortals are overwhelmed
by circumstance, how great reputations
dissolve with infirmity and how you,
in particular, stand a hairsbreadth from losing
everyone you hold dear.
Then, look back down the path to the north,
the way you came, as if seeing
your entire past and then south
over the hazy blue coast as if present
to a broad future.
Recall the way you are all possibilities
you can see and how you live best
as an appreciator of horizons
whether you reach them or not.
Admit that once you have got up
from your chair and opened the door,
once you have walked out into the clean air
toward that edge and taken the path up high
beyond the ordinary you have become
the privileged and the pilgrim,
the one who will tell the story
and the one, coming back
from the mountain
who helped to make it.

Oregon poet William Stafford wrote a poem every single day. This poem exquisitely captures the unexpected joy that can come from an unexpected walk.

Once in the 40’s

We were alone one night on a long

road in Montana. This was in winter, a big

night, far to the stars. We had hitched,

my wife and I, and left our ride at

a crossing to go on. Tired and cold — but

brave — we trudges along. This, we said,

was our life, watched over, allowed to go

where we wanted.

We said we’d come back some time

when we got rich. We’d leave the others and find

a night like this, whatever we had to give,

and no matter how far, to be so happy again.

Robert Frost has written some truly beautiful poems about walking, such as Acquainted with the Night. But the one we all remember is this one. And its words speak true to all of us at this momentous time in history:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

And finally we come to Mary Oliver, who spent every day walking through Nature — and gifted us with her beautiful poems about what she saw. She reminds us that perhaps the truest reason for any of us to walk through the natural world is to remember to stop believing that what we humans say is what we need to hearing. And so we leave you with this poem by Mary Oliver:

What the Trees Say

At breakfast, the heart of the egg looks like pure
gold.  Sunlight lifts the morning like a lever, 
and even before I step outside, I see a river
of sparrows rise and scatter through the dawn.

That’s when I tell myself, Look here,
you don’t have to hurry.  Don’t have to arrive
anywhere on time.  Don’t have to decide how far
to walk across the lawn or whether to carry on
into the woods.  
I pull on my jacket.  Breezes scatter
the yellow leaves.  The trees are whispering,

It’s fall.  Got to strip down.  Got to let the sky in here,
make a place for birds.  Got to reach further
down in the earth.  Got to hunker, children,
got to hold still enough to feel the wings flutter.

George Inness

(courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

As we walk through these challenging times, may we all remember to listen more to the love of the world than to the fear of the media. May we walk and hear the hope of the trees, feel the awe of the sky, the calm of the water — and in the renewal of spring, may we trust in the renewal of our world.

Cover Image: Two Men Walking and Looking at the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich (courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Photographs: Canva Images & Courtesy of the Artist