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being immersed in nature

//being immersed in nature
being immersed in nature 2017-05-23T12:36:58+00:00

Project Description

Spending Time in Nature Will Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative

NESTLED IN NATURE WITH NO DISTRACTIONS

We spend too much time indoors and online. But more and more studies suggest that nature can help our brains and bodies to stay healthy. Many like to hike or walk into the mountains, the just love it. Now scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people. Science is seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.

 

1. Being in nature decreases stress

It’s clear that walking or hiking—and any physical activity— reduces stress and anxiety. But, there’s something about being in nature that may augment those impacts.

Results of several studies show that those who walked in forests had significantly lower heart rates and higher heart rate variability (indicating more relaxation and less stress), and reported better moods and less anxiety, than those who walked in urban settings. The researchers concluded that there’s something about being in nature that had a beneficial effect on stress reduction, above and beyond what exercise alone might have produced.  The reasons for this effect are unclear; but scientists believe that we evolved to be more relaxed in natural spaces.

2. Nature makes you happier and less brooding

I’ve always found that hiking in the woods makes me feel happier, and of course decreased stress may be a big part of the reason why. Gregory Bratman, of Stanford University, has found evidence that nature impacts our mood in other ways, too.

In a 2015 study, he randomly assigned 60 participants to a 50-minute walk in either a natural setting or an urban setting . Before and after the walk, the participants were assessed on their emotional state and on cognitive measures, such as how well they could perform tasks requiring short-term memory. Results showed that those who walked in nature experienced less anxiety, rumination (focused attention on negative aspects of oneself), and negative affect, as well as more positive emotions, in comparison to the urban walkers. They also improved their performance on the memory tasks.

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3. Nature relieves attention fatigue and increases creativity.

Today, we live with ubiquitous technology designed to constantly pull for our attention. But many scientists believe our brains were not made for this kind of information bombardment, and that it can lead to mental fatigue, overwhelm, and burnout, requiring “attention restoration” to get back to a normal, healthy state. Strayer is one of those researchers. He believes that being in nature restores depleted attention circuits, which can then help us be more open to creativity and problem-solving.

“When you use your cell phone to talk, text, shoot photos, or whatever else you can do with your cell phone, you’re tapping the prefrontal cortex and causing reductions in cognitive resources,” he says.

A study in Psychological Science found that the impact of nature on attention restoration is what accounted for improved scores on cognitive tests for study participants. It’s this kind of brain activity—sometimes referred to as “the brain default network”—that is tied to creative thinking, says Strayer. He is currently repeating his earlier 2012 study with a new group of hikers and recording their EEG activity and salivary cortisol levels before, during, and after a three-day hike. Early analyses of EEG readings support the theory that hiking in nature seems to rest people’s attention networks and to engage their default networks.  “If you’ve been using your brain to multitask—as most of us do most of the day—and then you set that aside and go on a walk in nature, without all of the gadgets, you’ve let the prefrontal cortex recover,” says Strayer. “And that’s when we see these bursts in creativity, problem-solving, and feelings of well-being.”

4. Nature may help you to be kind and generous

Whenever I go to places like Yosemite or the Big Sur Coast of California, I seem to return home life ready to be more kind and generous to those around me. Now some new studies may shed light on why that is.

In a series of experiments, Juyoung Lee, GGSC director Dacher Keltner, and other researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, studied the potential impact of nature on the willingness to be generous, trusting, and helpful toward others, while considering what factors might influence that relationship.

As part of their study, the researchers exposed participants to more or less subjectively beautiful nature scenes (whose beauty levels were rated independently) and then observed how participants behaved playing two economics games—the Dictator Game and the Trust Game—that measure generosity and trust, respectively. After being exposed to the more beautiful nature scenes, participants acted more generously and more trusting in the games than those who saw less beautiful scenes, and the effects appeared to be due to corresponding increases in positive emotion.

Support for this theory comes from an experiment conducted by Paul Piff of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues, in which participants staring up a grove of very tall trees for as little as one minute experienced measurable increases in awe, and demonstrated more helpful behavior and approached moral dilemmas more ethically, than participants who spent the same amount of time looking up at a high building.

Why nature has such a positive effect on our brains is probably related to human evolution. “We evolved in outdoor environments, you know, over millions of years… Our indoor life has been incredibly recent.

“We tend to think that shopping or streaming Netflix, that those things will make us feel really great and then we under-value how good nature makes us feel.”

Florence Williams

5. Nature makes you “feel more alive”

With all of these benefits to being out in nature, it’s probably no surprise that something about nature makes us feel more alive and vital. Being outdoors gives us energy, makes us happier, helps us to relieve the everyday stresses of our overscheduled lives, opens the door to creativity, and helps us to be kind to others.

No one knows if there is an ideal amount of nature exposure, though Strayer says that longtime backpackers suggest a minimum of three days to really unplug from our everyday lives. Nor can anyone say for sure how nature compares to other forms of stress relief or attention restoration, such as sleep or meditation. Still, the research does suggest there’s something about nature that keeps us psychologically healthy, and that’s good to know…especially since nature is a resource that’s free and that many of us can access by just walking outside our door. And while the research may not be conclusive, Strayer is optimistic that science will eventually catch up to what people like me have intuited all along—that there’s something about nature that renews us, allowing us to feel better, to think better, and to deepen our understanding of ourselves and others.

“You can’t have centuries of people writing about this and not have something going on,” says Strayer. “If you are constantly on a device or in front of a screen, you’re missing out on something that’s pretty spectacular: the real world around you in all its beauty.”

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