Scores of people suffer from untreated mental health issues. The recent COVID-19 pandemic amplified the problem, with anxiety and depression rates soaring by 25% around the globe. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t seek professional help, thanks to the high cost of health care and the large number of uninsured and underinsured individuals.
However, there are holistic techniques you can try at home for free to get relief. One of them is as simple as stepping outside and kicking off your shoes. Let’s take a closer look at the mental health benefits of walking barefoot.
What Is “Grounding” or “Earthing?”
You might have heard the terms “earthing” or “grounding.” They both refer to the same practice, which, at its most basic, is walking on the earth with your bare feet to sync your body with the natural rhythms of the planet. However, many people prefer the term “earthing,” as “grounding” may cause confusion — you can “ground” an electric wire or feel “grounded” in a new career field once you learn the ropes.
Many therapists and treatment centers have begun offering lessons in earthing as part of a total holistic health care package. It integrates naturally with other practices like yoga and meditation, and offers many comparable mental and physical health benefits.
How does it work? Earthing takes advantage of the electrons and negative ions the earth exudes. Your body also contains electrons as part of every atom of every cell and carries an electric charge. Like any circuit, what happens in one place affects everything else in contact with it, and putting your body in close proximity to the planet’s energies has proven physiological effects.
The Health Benefits of Walking Barefoot
Scans and research studies reveal numerous physical changes that occur when you practice earthing. How do these shifts influence your mental health? Here’s what scientists know to date.
1. Increase Energy and Decrease Fatigue
Do you toss and turn night after night? Part of the problem could lie in your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that prompts physical changes that heal injuries and illnesses in the right amounts. However, the chronic stress many modern folks experience leads to abnormally high levels, especially at night.
Melatonin is a vital sleep hormone. It has an inverse relationship with cortisol, meaning as one goes up, the other decreases. Therefore, people with elevated cortisol often feel exhausted — but find sleep elusive.
Experiments with earthing show that the practice lowers the cortisol levels of people with formerly high to very high levels in the evening before slumber. Study participants also reported better morning wakefulness and more energy throughout the day. Earthing helps you sleep better at night, which translates to a perkier daytime outlook.
2. Improve Circulation
You might hear the word “viscosity” and think of motor oil, but it also applies to your blood. Your blood viscosity is an often-overlooked factor that can influence your risk of heart disease. Unlike engine oil, you want your blood to be less thick and sticky to avoid clogging your arteries and causing a heart attack or stroke.
Experiments show that earthing lowers blood viscosity, therefore increasing circulation. It lowers your risk of heart disease while supplying your neurons with more oxygen-and-nutrient-rich blood. When your brain has the raw materials it needs to manufacture various neurotransmitters, your mood and mental health improve.
3. Reduce Inflammation
In limited amounts, inflammation can heal — it’s why you experience mild swelling when you get a bruise. Your body rushes blood and nutrients to the site to repair it. However, long-term, systemic inflammation is a hallmark of many chronic diseases, including mental conditions like anxiety.
Studies show that earthing decreases systemic inflammation. Lowering it can also ease your anxiety symptoms, as inflammation can increase the release of several hormones and neurotransmitters that make you feel nervous and on edge.
4. Improve Sleep
You already know how earthing affects cortisol, and with it, melatonin. However, are you aware of how profoundly a lack of sleep can influence your mental health?
Severe sleep deprivation can cause symptoms nearly identical to schizophrenia, complete with visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. It also worsens the symptoms of bipolar disorder and makes it more difficult for people with personality disorders to regulate their emotions.
Many people with insomnia develop comorbid anxiety and depression. It makes sense to feel sad or worried if you can’t sleep night after night, but the problem also becomes a chicken-and-egg question. These mental disorders can also disrupt sleep — which came first, the bad mood or sleep dysfunction?
It doesn’t matter when you use earthing as a remedy — the practice is likely to improve your sleep that night. Furthermore, studies show that spending time in nature eases stress and improves depressive symptoms. You get a one-two punch to address everything at once.
Tips for Starting Your Practice
Are you ready to get outside and kick off your shoes? Here are four tips for starting your earthing practice:
- Find a clean, safe space: You don’t want to step on anything sharp or painful. Use caution depending on where you live and watch out for broken glass in public parks.
- Invest in easy-to-remove shoes: It’s a bit of a hassle to untie shoelaces, and you might not want to put slightly damp socks back on after removing your sneakers. Instead, look for flip-flops, sandals or other shoes you can easily remove and replace.
- Play with various textures: Get mindful with your earthing practice. What differences do you feel when you stand on naked rock as opposed to grass or dirt?
- Have fun in all kinds of weather: It’s fun to get muddy sometimes, just ask any toddler! You can try earthing in all kinds of weather — even snow, assuming you have a safe place to warm your toes afterward.
The Mental Health Benefits of Walking Barefoot
Earthing may sound like new-age mysticism, but there’s tons of scientific evidence supporting the practice. It’s free and can benefit your health — all you have to do is kick off your shoes and head outdoors.
Get started exploring the mental health benefits of walking barefoot today. You could experience considerable relief by aligning your rhythms to Mother Earth.