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Nature is Calming

To stay focused, we need to give our minds a rest periodically even during a workday. It turns out that natural environments—and even photos of nature—provide a unique kind of rest; Nature is Calming. They allow you to relax your attention but also keep other parts of your mind engaged, in beneficial ways. As the authors explain in one key study, they provide “softly fascinating stimulation that captures bottom-up involuntary attention mechanisms.”

This is especially important if you have trouble stopping repetitive worry. Psychologists call brooding “rumination,” the same word we use for cows chewing their cud over and over. You’re ruminating when you hash over the details of a cryptic email repeatedly without reaching insights. You may think you’re problem-solving, but too often you end up thinking, “What’s wrong with me?”—and no answer emerges.  Rumination is more common among women—men are more likely to distract themselves—and may be why women are more prone to depression.  Rumination also plays a role in anxiety, binge eating and binge drinking, among other problems.

Rumination may be linked to more activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex, especially when you’re not engaged in a mental task.

A growing body of research, still with mixed results, has explored the idea that nature brings serenity.  We do know that exercising adds to the benefit,even if it’s only walking.  In one study, scientists gave volunteers tests of their attentiveness and mood before and after a 50-minute walk through a leafy area at Stanford, which maintains a huge campus. After their dose of greenery, the volunteers were less anxious and more focused. Another group took a walk beside a busy multi-lane highway in Palo Alto and didn’t emerge nearly as refreshed.

The same team followed up by scanning the brains of volunteers before and after a 90-minute walk. This time, they aimed to pin down the effect of a walk in a green environment on rumination.

The team found that volunteers who took a 90 minute walk on quiet, tree-lined paths had less blood flow in the subgenual prefrontal cortex afterwards—and also seemed happier in their answers on questionaires. The results weren’t huge, but significant and better than the measurements among a group that walked along the highway.

For the sake of the study, the volunteers were instructed not to listen to music or bring friends. But of course if music or companionship helps your own mood, as it does for many, don’t hesitate.

Greenery seems to be good for human beings whether or not they ruminate. One 2015 study based on data from Toronto concluded that:

… having 10 more trees in a city block, on average, improves healthperception in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being 7 years younger. We also find that having 11 more trees in a city block, on average, decreases cardio-metabolic conditions in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $20,000 higher median income or being 1.4 years younger.

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PUREALCHEMY DESIGN Pinterest Board: Nature is Calming.

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