My Favorite Bit of Information From The Week:
Go Green For Mental Health
Introduction: As the weather has started to shift to warmer and more inhabitable temperatures – for me and my temperament anyway – my depression and anxiety have been slightly easier to keep at bay. This seems to be directly tied to my being able to go outdoors more; sometimes on walks to the beach to have tea or coffee there, play my Ukulele at the beach (more on music and mental health to come soon in a future post), or to watch the hawks that have nested in our trees outside our window. All of this has made me feel more stable. If I am having a rough week and it’s hard to get out of bed or the anxiety is ramping up, going outside has been life changing for me.
It made me wonder: why? Why do the great outdoors reduce our stress and sooth our mental illness? While the research being done on this topic is still fairly young and has a long way to go, it is clear that being out in nature helps physical and mental illness/stress almost unanimously across the board. I hope you enjoy perusing through some of the research I have found on this interesting topic below.
Why Does Nature Help? While unclear as to the specific cause, we do know that something in nature is triggering a calm down in our prefrontal cortex in the brain. This excerpt from Harvard Medical School states it well: “[I]n a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions. ‘When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions, and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts,’ says Dr. Strauss.
“Video For The Test Mentioned Above: I found a video speaking about the test mentioned above, it was conducted by Stanford University in 2015. Here is the two minute video clip and an article attached with a link to the study results. This particular research focuses specifically on hiking/walking in urban environments vs. natural environments.
What Are The Theories? As stated above, researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes this calm in the brain, but you can check out this article from Harvard Medical School for more information on the topic. It was my favorite article I read this past week simply because I felt it combined all the other research I had read and presented it in very accessible way.
Some theories listed in the article above are as follows:
- The Sounds: Some think it’s the natural sounds that calm our brain (a great thing to try if it’s challenging to get outside). You can check out these lovely youtube videos for free outdoor noises: River & Birdsong. While these didn’t seem to help me personally, they’ve helped friends of mine.
- The Colors And Visual Beauty May Calm The Mind: In particular, the color green. Humans see green better than any other color. Scientists believe this may be due in part to our having come from forests and distinguishing the difference between green and other colors in the woods could potentially be life saving. One of the theories as what that could mean now is well stated in this CNN article:
“Some scientists and researchers also believe that because our eyes are at the peak of their perception to detect the wavelengths corresponding with the color green, the shade may calm us down. With less strain to perceive the colors, our nervous system can relax when perceiving the tone.This sedative quality of green may explain why there is so much of it in hospitals, schools and work environments. Historically, actors and actresses would recess to green rooms after so much time looking into bright lights on stage, though modern ‘green rooms’ are rarely painted green.”
I have found this to be largely true for me, if green is near by I find my outdoor experience more helpful to my mental health than if there is no green. I also find this color calming to wear. Interesting to think about.
I Live In A City: How do you access nature in a city and how much is enough? No worries! There are ways to be creative! Most of the research indicates – although it may be slightly different per person – the general guideline seems to be: “Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful,” says Dr. Strauss. “The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle.”- Harvard Medical School.
Some Of My Favorite Ways To Be Outside In The City: I am going to share some of my favorite tips on being outside in an urban environment:
- Have Your Coffee Or Tea Outside In The Morning: If you are like me and live near the north side/beach, this is easier, but you can even pop off the train or drive to a beach/park on your way to work and take 20-30 minutes to enjoy your morning brew! This also works on a lunch break, or on your way home, or on your weekend. It’s a way of taking some of the time we use to eat or drink and reallocating it to our mental health.
- Set Up Camping or Hiking Excursions: If you have never camped or hiked before, let me know and I would be delighted to help you! Some options close to Chicago (if you are an Ohioan and want some recommendations let me know and I can dig some up for you!):
- Starved Rock State Park
- Indiana Dunes National Park
- Thru-Hiking: If you are interested in a more intense/longer experience you can check out Liz Thomas’ website. She also has a great video at the base of her page talking about her 200 mile hike through urban Seattle. There are still trees and beauty around, much like a large chunk of Chicago, but it is a more accessible way to hike for many of us. I am also a huge fan of her book Long Trails: Mastering The Art Of Thru-Hiking and recommend checking it out here if you are interested in planning a trip.
- Lincoln Park Zoo and Gardens: You can check out the zoo for FREE, or venture through the beautiful gardens!
- Winter:Chicago Winters can be rough, here is a small sub category for how to get some green and calm into your world when it’s snowy here, they are also all great for the Summer:
- Lincoln Park Conservatory
- Nature Museum
- Plants combined with physical activity: I do yoga with my plants indoors, a lot of my friends also recommending having plants at work desks if you can swing it.
- Being brave and going on a walk to the lake: Even in the frozen tundra, this can be rewarding. It’s not green, but It does inspire awe in me!
- Parks: Take a walk through the park! Such as Millennium/ Grant Park:
- They also do free Yoga in the park most weeks. You can check out the lists of eventshere.
If you are interested in more research or information regarding being outdoors and mental health; if you want to share your favorite ways of being outside, or if you want more recommendations on how to be outside in your environment, please E-mail me and let me know!
Update on my Show
Humboldt Mile: The Humboldt Mile this past week was amazing! It was incredible to learn and share with so many beautiful humans about mental health. And all while being outdoors as well! For more events coming up with Hope For The Day, please click here.
Another thanks to Margo Siwak and Benjamin Lapean for the design of my beautiful flyers and for helping with printing respectfully!
Also, I just finished another update of the script with the help of my mental health advisers! Very excited to share this with you!
Many, Many thanks: Margo Siwak and Joe Siwak for the design of the logo, and to Jillian Best and Bill Best for the Website creation and Design! I feel very blessed to have such beautiful humans in my life.
Ways to Support: If you would like to donate to my show, share this project with a friend, or find out more about it please check out my gofundme here: https://www.gofundme.com/one-woman-hamlet
Thank You: Thank you VERY much to all who have donated thus far, making this project possible.