The “Nature” of Stress: Why clubs should look at Panthers Unleashed


Nature has been proven to have many beneficial effects on your mindset and your body. This image of a tree showcases one natural environment. According to the American Institute of Stress, “There is research that suggests that looking at a lush green, natural landscape can help you relax, but if you really want to up your stress management game, go take a walk in the park.” Photo Credit: M. Erez

Students are currently presented with two options: going to school in person or at home through Zoom. This is an overwhelming choice for many. After all, at first glance it can seem like you are being forced to pick safety or socialization. But what if there was a way to meet with your friends without having to take such a large risk for you or your family’s health? Panthers Unleashed is exactly that! It provides both safer in-person meetings than those in an enclosed space while also giving students the benefits that come with being outside.

What is Panthers Unleashed?

Panthers Unleashed is a new afterschool program dedicated to giving clubs the chance to meet and plan events outdoors. All clubs and club advisors can sign up for any dates they desire to meet at Mullins Park.
“Activities will be determined by input of club members and ultimately the advisors. We have discussed a variety of events, from club meetings to special events like yoga classes, art projects, and so on. There are so many opportunities available. We look forward to the ideas clubs will present us with,” said Assistant Athletic Director Kate Hearn.
Safety is a large priority in this program. “We miss our students and want to provide them with a safe environment where they can take part in events that will build upon what already makes CSC special. Also, we are following the safety guidelines that our student athletes are already under in sports. We will have pre-screenings, temperature checks, and cleaning protocols. We are ready to serve our students,” said Hearn. Social distancing will also be followed.
Panthers Unleashed is the collaborative effort of the Athletics Department.

“We started this program because we know the importance and need of exercise, and social interaction, as well as the role they both play in one’s overall mental and emotional health,” said Hearn. “Our goal is to provide students with a sense of normalcy, school community, and an outlet from these extremely trying times of this pandemic and quarantine.”

The science behind why you should sign up

Nature is proven to have many health benefits. One study found that those who spent 120 minutes or more outdoors weekly were both healthier and had higher levels of happiness than those who did not.

“I go outside to practice softball and to work on my conditioning and staying in shape. It helps me be prepared for games, and takes the stress away from school,” said sophomore Jesyne Espinal.

But what causes nature to have these benefits? Well, take a look at shinrin-yoku (pronounced shĭn-rĭn-yōkoo). Shinrin-yoku is a concept created by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, simply meaning forest bathing or in other words, taking in the forest. By simply walking into and observing an outdoors environment, you can receive several health benefits.

Here is an example of another natural environment. In this image, you can view a butterfly perched upon a patch of grass. You can find sights like this by just taking a walk outside in your backyard or even around your neighborhood.
Photo Credit: M. Erez

These health benefits directly relate to relieving stress. Stress causes your blood pressure to temporarily increase and your heart to beat faster. One study found that shinrin-yoku directly combats this by promoting lower blood pressure and pulse rate.

It also found that shinrin-yoku also promotes greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity. These two systems are responsible for the fight-or-flight response, as you’ve most likely heard it called.

Think of your sympathetic nervous system like the gas pedal of a car. Your sympathetic nervous system directs your response during a stressful situation. When the brain is given certain signals, it will activate the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system will then alert the adrenal gland, causing it to produce a hormone called adrenaline. Adrenaline causes a variety of effects including sweating, increased heart rate, and shorts breaths.

Meanwhile, your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for calming your body afterwards. Think of it like a brake. By increasing parasympathetic nerve activity and decreasing sympathetic nerve activity, shinrin-yoku effectively allows your body to relax.

This infographic explains the fight-or-flight response that occurs in the body during a stressful situation. It also describes the roles your sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic sympathetic system play in this response. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “All of these changed happen so quickly that people aren’t aware of them.”
Photo Credit: M. Erez

This is both helpful to your mental health, and your physiological health. The question you may have, however, is what shinrin-yoku has to do with Panthers Unleashed? Well, the answer is simple.

Shinrin-yoku is basically outdoor therapy. It simply is the act of being outdoors and taking in nature with one’s senses. It provides proof of how just being outside can be beneficial to your body.

“I play cards with my grandpa on our front porch most evenings. It’s refreshing to sit outside after being cooped up inside and stuck in front of a computer screen all day,” said senior Samantha Reilly. “I feel like it’s good for my mental health, especially after everything has happened.”

Panthers Unleashed is dedicated to getting students and clubs the outdoor time that is so beneficial. There are other ways to get time outside of course, whether by planting a garden at your house or even walking around your neighborhood.

“I usually just go for walks for an hour or two. I think it’s been really good for me in the sense that I’m just getting out and giving myself something to do. It’s a great way to keep my mind off things,” said junior Gabby Varona.

Panthers Unleashed is only one of the many ways you can be outdoors and in nature. It is special, however, because it provides a chance for social interaction unlike the other options you may have.

“We are super excited to present and hold this opportunity for our clubs. We feel it is an extraordinary program and we are hoping the many clubs take the advantage of getting our kids involved in this,” said Hearn.