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How Nature Affects Your Mood

As more of the spaces we live in are urbanized, our daily exposure to nature decreases. Many adults spend at least 8 hours a day in front of a screen of some kind. While we don’t yet fully know the negative effects of these types of activities, there has been mounting evidence that taking time from your busy day for a short date with nature can be very beneficial to your well-being.

Recharging Your Brain’s Batteries

 

Like the rest of our body, our brains can become overwhelmed and run out of the energy required to stay focused and alert. “Brain fatigue”, as it’s commonly known, can significantly reduce our outer awareness and response to tasks. The good news is that even a small change like taking a few minutes to step away from the noise and hectic movement of the city lifestyle and into the calm of nature can be beneficial to reducing the amount of brain fatigue experienced throughout the day.

 

Our brains can become overwhelmed and run out of the energy required to stay focused and alert.

 

Using portable EEG machines, researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh monitored brain wave activity while asking their participants to walk through three separate areas — a historic area with less traffic, a park-like setting, and a busy commercial area — so that they could look for brain activity patterns. What they discovered was that participants’ minds were quieter during a walk through the park than through urban areas. Although participants were still very much mentally engaged while walking through the park, the process was considered effortless in comparison to a stroll through a busy urban setting. Next time you find yourself struggling to stay alert, consider taking a break to venture in nature, it can do a world of difference!

Improving Cognition and Mood

 

Depression has a huge impact on a large part of the urban population. Between predisposition and stress, depression is among the most highly diagnosed mental health issues. However, with new developments in therapy, those diagnosed have more tools that make it possible to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Alternative therapies draw a great deal of interest from those who would rather not receive prescription medication.

It has been suggested that taking time in nature may help increase mood and cognition in those diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), and Marc G. Berman and his colleagues explored just that. To complete the study, participants were asked to complete assessments for both mood and memory, and complete a 50 minute walk – either in a natural or urban setting. Berman and his colleagues observed that participants who walked through the natural area had an improvement in both mood and memory. While these improvements are not correlational to each other, the findings suggest that coming in contact with nature may be beneficial to those diagnosed with MDD.

Sweating the Small Stuff

 

Several times a day we actively think about ways in which things have gone wrong for us and how we should have done things differently. While we think this may help us make better decisions in the future, this rumination can be detrimental to mental health and can cause pre-existing conditions like depression and anxiety to worsen over time. Correlational and experimental data supports the theory that living and working in urban areas can also influence our thought patters and can play a role in the development of mental health issues.

To explore the link between rumination and exposure to nature, researchers at Stanford conducted a study in which the subgenual prefrontal cortex was closely monitored during a 90 minute walk, either through a green space or beside a busy highway. With self-reported rumination questionnaires and brain scans both before and after the walks, results showed that the 90 minute walk through the green space reduced rumination and activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. This data suggests that even brief periods of time in nature can aid in the management of mental health issues and rumination.

 

Breaks from the chaos of urban life can have a significant and positive impact on not only your mental health but your overall well-being.

 

Getting in touch with nature is something that we all can benefit from. Whether it’s a walk during your lunch break or a visit to a wooded area on the weekends, these breaks from the chaos of urban life can have a significant and positive impact on not only your mental health but your overall well-being. If you need any support, we encourage you to call us at 416.921.CARE (2273) and set up a complimentary one hour consultation with a member of our health team.

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