Walking In Nature Changes The Brain

In my city there is a very large and beautiful park filled with mature trees (150 + years). It’s lush and green and I’ve always felt so calm being there.

I’m considering renting a house close to that park early next year while I sort a few things and plan my next steps.

At present I live by the sea and I’m lucky to be surrounded by beautiful beaches but I prefer being around old trees. I guess we all have power spots that we love and that energize us.

It would be a good place to clear my mind. Walking around and enjoying the beauty and space is restorative and the lush green is so calming.

My realize my mind has been so scattered .. for years!! But I am starting to feel so much better physically and I feel calmer and more able to focus on the present and on what I need to do right now. I guess being so sick from chronic illness, stress and heartache, all I could do was dream, plan and imagine better future. My everyday reality was very difficult to live in. I was very sick and very alone and I guess my mind was willing but my body was too weak to move forward anywhere :o(

Constantly living in the future was driving me crazy but maybe it gave me a sense of hope..

I’m ready to move forward in healthy ways and to keep it simple for my well-being. It’s going to take some sacrifices but it will be better for me in the long run.

I’m starting to feel better physically and emotionally and I am less reactive to people and foods. My aches and pains are decreasing and disappearing also.

I’ve been through the wringer and I worked so hard to recover so I maybe it’s slowly starting to pay off. 2016 could be a very good year. Calmer, simpler, more positive and happier.

SG x

Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago.

City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.

These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?

That possibility intrigued Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, who has been studying the psychological effects of urban living. In an earlier study published last month, he and his colleagues found that volunteers who walked briefly through a lush, green portion of the Stanford campus were more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.

But that study did not examine the neurological mechanisms that might underlie the effects of being outside in nature.

So for the new study, which was published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Bratman and his collaborators decided to closely scrutinize what effect a walk might have on a person’s tendency to brood.

Brooding, which is known among cognitive scientists as morbid rumination, is a mental state familiar to most of us, in which we can’t seem to stop chewing over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives. This broken-record fretting is not healthy or helpful. It can be a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas, studies show.

Perhaps most interesting for the purposes of Mr. Bratman and his colleagues, however, such rumination also is strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex.

If the researchers could track activity in that part of the brain before and after people visited nature, Mr. Bratman realized, they would have a better idea about whether and to what extent nature changes people’s minds.

Mr. Bratman and his colleagues first gathered 38 healthy, adult city dwellers and asked them to complete a questionnaire to determine their normal level of morbid rumination.

The researchers also checked for brain activity in each volunteer’s subgenual prefrontal cortex, using scans that track blood flow through the brain. Greater blood flow to parts of the brain usually signals more activity in those areas.

Then the scientists randomly assigned half of the volunteers to walk for 90 minutes through a leafy, quiet, parklike portion of the Stanford campus or next to a loud, hectic, multi-lane highway in Palo Alto. The volunteers were not allowed to have companions or listen to music. They were allowed to walk at their own pace.

Immediately after completing their walks, the volunteers returned to the lab and repeated both the questionnaire and the brain scan.

As might have been expected, walking along the highway had not soothed people’s minds. Blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged.

But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.

They also had less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That portion of their brains were quieter.

These results “strongly suggest that getting out into natural environments” could be an easy and almost immediate way to improve moods for city dwellers, Mr. Bratman said.

But of course many questions remain, he said, including how much time in nature is sufficient or ideal for our mental health, as well as what aspects of the natural world are most soothing. Is it the greenery, quiet, sunniness, loamy smells, all of those, or something else that lifts our moods? Do we need to be walking or otherwise physically active outside to gain the fullest psychological benefits? Should we be alone or could companionship amplify mood enhancements?

“There’s a tremendous amount of study that still needs to be done,” Mr. Bratman said.

But in the meantime, he pointed out, there is little downside to strolling through the nearest park, and some chance that you might beneficially muffle, at least for awhile, your subgenual prefrontal cortex.


A Few Ways To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016

Found on BuzzFeed and written by Anna Borges, this is too cute not to share.


1. Make your bed every day.

It’s basically the simplest way to instantly feel like you have your shit together.

Make your bed every day.

2. Check your people-pleasing tendencies at the door.

Check your people-pleasing tendencies at the door.

Being an accommodating, nice person = good. Worrying about people liking you and not stepping on any toes at the expense of your own happiness and desires = not good. You can’t please everyone — embrace that that’s 100% OK this year.

3. Pick up a hobby that’s only purpose is to make you feel good.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016

Not a hobby that will look good on your college apps or your résumé. Not something you’re eh about but that you think will make you a more well-rounded person. Literally just something you find fulfilling or relaxing or cool.

4. Budget for little indulgences that make you feel better every month.

Budget for little indulgences that make you feel better every month.

Candles, tea, massages, new music, bubble bath, whatever — make it a non-negotiable part of your budget to remind yourself that taking care of yourself is a priority.

5. Commit to less negative self talk.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016

Everyone has negative thoughts about themselves sometimes — but you can catch those negative thoughts, recognize them as untrue, and replace them with positive ones. This 12-day Love Yourself challenge is a good place to start getting in the right mindset.

6. Put a small memory in a jar every day.

Not only will this give you an amazing retrospective of 2016 come next year, but writing down the amazing things that happen to you when they happen works as a great gratitude exercise day to day. Find out how to make a perfect rememberlutions jar here.

7. Distance yourself from — or end — relationships that drain you more than they energize you.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016

You deserve to be surrounded by people who pump you up and make you feel good, so if a relationship is toxic, exhausting, or even just bumming you out, you don’t need it.

Here’s how to break up with someone and how to end a friendship like an adult.

8. Cut “should” from your vocabulary.Cut "should" from your vocabulary.

The new year is a time where you inevitably take stock of your life and how you’re doing — and you probably wind up thinking things like, “I should be healthier, I should be nicer, I should…” etc., etc.

“It’s like this big, judgmental finger wagging at yourself,” clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., previously told BuzzFeed Life. “It causes us to engage in behaviors that are completely against what we want. Instead, replace ‘should’ with ‘I would like.’” Check it out: I would like to be healthier. I would like to stop spending so much time on my phone. I would like to go to bed at a decent-ish hour…

9. Treat yourself like your best friend.

 Every time you have the impulse to punish or insult yourself, get in the habit of asking, “Would I do this to my best friend?” Or whoever you think deserves to be treated with the utmost compassion and respect — aka exactly how you deserve to be treated, too.

10. Find a therapist you really, really like.

Find a therapist you really, really like.

Anyone can benefit from therapy, so whether you’re already seeing a therapist that you’re lukewarm about or want to start therapy for the first time, make the first step to find one that you really click with. If you don’t know where to start, check out this beginner’s guide to starting therapy.

11. Say “no” more — without explaining yourself.

One of two things inevitably happen when you say “yes” to things you don’t want to do — either you do them at the expense of your own happiness or you make excuses and flake later at the expense of your relationships. Don’t do that. Be gracious and polite, sure, but look out for yourself. “No” is a complete sentence.

12. Complain less.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016
Not only does it make you an unpleasant person to be around in general, but also complaining = ruminating in negative thoughts. And ruminating in negative thoughts takes a big toll on your mental health in the long run. Don’t hold stuff in, by any means, but make an effort to express those negative thoughts once and move on.

13. Treat emotional pain like physical pain.

Treat emotional pain like physical pain.

If you need a mental health day, take one. If you find getting out of bed getting more and more difficult, go to the doctor. Don’t brush something off because it’s not an obvious injury.

14. Get enough sleep.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016

What does sleep have to do with mental health? Pretty much everything. Lack of sleep can seriously magnify feelings of unhappiness or depression and anxiety — so treat your body right. Your mind will thank you.

15. Take up journaling.

Expressive writing has been shown to help your mental wellbeing, psychologist Deborah Serani, Psy.D., author of Living With Depression, previously told BuzzFeed Life. It might even help you know yourself better. Check out these journals that will give your brain a workout.

16. Compare yourself to others less.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016
This year, every time you find yourself comparing yourself negatively to someone else, remind yourself of three things you’re totally kickass at. Either that, or put a dollar in a jar. You’ll kick the habit pretty quickly.

17. Spend more alone time with yourself.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016

Carve out time once a week or month to date yourself. Take yourself out to dinner and a movie or go exploring around your city. Learn to be comfortable spending time alone. Learn to love your own company.

18. Start every day by reminding yourself of one positive thing about your life.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016

We tend to hold on to negative thoughts a lot stronger than positive ones, so expressing gratitude before you get out of bed in the morning is a small, effective way to get on the right path and to connect with happier thoughts.

19. Cut back on social media.

Cut back on social media.
People put their happiest selves forward on social media — relationships, vacations, work brags, etc. — which makes it easy to wind up feeling like shit about your own life. Concentrate more on the IRL and watch your mental well-being improve.

20. Decorate your space so you’re surrounded by inspiring things.

Your bedroom, your desk at work, wherever you need a little help — you’d be surprised how much a few well-placed words of encouragement can help when you find yourself in a bad place.

21. Do more things that make you a little anxious.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016

It might feel good in the moment to avoid situations that make you uncomfortable, but the more you avoid something, the worse your anxiety about it gets, clinical psychologist Jennifer Taitz, Psy.D., previously told BuzzFeed Life. Challenge yourself by putting yourself in those situations that excite and scare you a little bit — the more you do, the easier it’ll become.

22. Share what you’re going through with friends.

23 Things To Do To Improve Your Mental Health In 2016




Radical Acceptance

Sometimes problems can’t be solved

by Jacqueline Maldonado:

One of the four options you have for any problem is Radical Acceptance (Linehan, 1993). Radical acceptance is about accepting of life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. Radical Acceptance is about saying yes to life, just as it is.

Imagine that you talk with an apartment manager about leasing an apartment in a popular complex that is completely full. He agrees to call you when the two-bedroom apartment is available. You wait for months, then stop by to check with him. When you arrive he is signing a lease agreement with a couple for a two-bedroom unit.  When you confront him, he shrugs. That shouldn’t happen. It isn’t fair. And it did happen.

The pain is the loss of an apartment that you really wanted. You may feel sad and hurt. Suffering is what you do with that pain and the interpretation you put on the pain. Suffering is optional; pain is not.

It’s difficult to accept what you don’t want to be true. And it’s more difficult to not accept. Not accepting pain brings suffering.

Refusing to Accept Reality

People often say, “I can’t stand this,” “This isn’t fair,” “This can’t be true,” and “This shouldn’t be this way.” It’s almost as if we think refusing to accept the truth will keep it from being true or that accepting means agreeing. Accepting doesn’t mean agreeing.

It’s exhausting to fight reality and it doesn’t work. Refusing to accept that you were fired for something you didn’t do, that your friend cheated you, or that you weren’t accepted into college you wanted to attend doesn’t change the situation and it adds to the pain you experience.

Accepting reality is difficult when life is painful. No one wants to experience pain, disappointment, sadness or loss. But those experiences are a part of life. When you attempt to avoid or resist those emotions, you add suffering to your pain. You may build the emotion bigger with your thoughts or create more misery by attempting to avoid the painful emotions. You can stop suffering by practicing acceptance.

Life is full of experiences that you enjoy and others that you dislike. When you push away or attempt to avoid feelings of sadness and pain, you also diminish your ability to feel joy. Avoidance of emotions often leads to depression and anxiety. Avoidance can also lead to destructive behaviors such as gambling, drinking too much, overspending, eating too little or too much, and overworking. These behaviors may help avoid pain in the short run but they only make the situation worse in the long run.

Acceptance means you can turn your resistant, ruminating thoughts into accepting thoughts like, “I’m in this situation. I don’t approve of it. I don’t think it’s OK, but it is what it is and I can’t change that it happened.”

Imagine that you are late for an important job interview. Traffic is especially congested and you are stopped at stoplight after stoplight. Raging at the traffic lights or the drivers in front of you will not help you get to your destination sooner and will only add to your upset. Accepting the situation and doing the best you can will be less emotionally painful and likely more effective. With acceptance you will arrive at your interview less distressed and perhaps better able to manage the situation.

Radical Acceptance Requires Practice

Radical Acceptance is a skill that requires practice. Practicing accepting that traffic is heavy, that it’s raining on the day you wanted to go to the beach, and that your friend cancels when you had plans to spend the day together are important for coping well and living a more contented life. When you practice acceptance, you are still disappointed, sad and perhapsfearful in such situations, and you don’t add the pain of non-acceptance to those emotions and make the situations worse. Practicing acceptance in these situations also helps you prepare for acceptance in more difficult circumstances.

Everyone experiences losing someone they love.  The death of a parent, a child, a spouse or a dear friend is particularly difficult. Your first reaction may be to say something like “No! It can’t be,” even though you know it is true.

The death of a loved one will always be difficult and painful. Acceptance means you can begin to heal. Resisting reality delays healing and adds suffering to your pain. When you practice acceptance everyday, you may be more prepared when the most difficult experiences in life occur. So practicing accepting the heavy traffic is about easing your suffering in that moment and also about being able to decrease your suffering in more difficult situations that may come.

Reasons to Not Accept Reality

Sometimes people behave as if they believe not accepting something will change the situation. It’s like accepting painful situations or emotions is being passive or giving in. That’s not it. It’s allowing reality to be as it is.

Other times people don’t want to feel the pain. There are many life situations that are painful and that are not in our control. We can’t avoid that pain, but we can control how much we suffer over the pain that we experience. Suffering is the part we can control.

A Place to Begin

Life gives lots of opportunities to practice. If you have a problem that you can solve, then that is the first option. If you can’t solve it but can change your perception of it, then do that. If you can’t solve it or change your perception of an issue, then practice radical acceptance.

Begin by focusing on your breath. Just notice thoughts that you might have such as the situation isn’t fair or you can’t stand what happened. Just let those thoughts pass. Give yourself an accepting statement, such as “It is what it is.” Practice over and over again. Acceptance often requires many repetitions.

Karyn Hall Ph.D.Pieces of Mind


Merry Christmas!

It’s already Christmas morning here in NZ!

Merry Christmas to my dear readers and fellow bloggers. Thank you for helping me heal with your comments, support, kindness and wise words. Loads of love to you and may you find peace and joy in your hearts.

SG x

Margaret Berg Art: Christmas Wreath Heart: