The idea of having a moment of absolute peace and collective serenity seems to be out of reach for many of us. We tend to be caught up with school, work, our families, and when we want to destress, sometimes our own home isn’t where we can completely relieve our minds of our daily stresses.
I have always believed that the purest answer to this problem is exposure to nature.
According to a study done by Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, people who walked in a natural area for 90 minutes “showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression” as well as anxiety, versus those who walked through an urban area for 90 minutes.
Although you may not have 90 minutes to spare, a good 10-15 minute stop by a local park to simply listen for the quiet within you and the quiet around you could greatly impact your day.
Research done by Stanford shows that nature restores depleted attention circuits in the brain and encourages a more open, meditative mindset.
Another similar study, conducted by the same institute, showed that time in nature had “a positive effect on mood and aspects of cognitive function, including working memory, as well as a dampening effect on anxiety.”
Currently, scientists are working on getting these results to city planners and others who dictate the layout of our natural spaces.
“Ecosystem services are being incorporated into decision making at all levels of public policy, land use planning, and urban design, and it’s very important to be sure to incorporate empirical findings from psychology into these decisions,” said Stanford University’s Gregory Bratman, lead author of the two studies, to Berkley University’s “Greater Good Magazine.”
This current reach toward city planners highlights how difficult it can be for people to have access to nature. To have green space within urban layouts could significantly impact a community as a whole.
Although there are other alternative forms of destressing (exercising, yoga, art, therapy, etc.), I find being out in nature to be the purest form.
It is free reign; you can focus your attention on anything, including yourself and/or your surroundings. Unlike the few forms I mentioned, it isn’t only about the individual. It correlates with something much much larger, with our planet. I think that it is important, even vital to our mental health, to place ourselves within our natural ecosystem and connect with it.
As a college student, someone who lives with their family of five and works two jobs (one being where I’m constantly interacting with other people), it’s difficult to find a space where I can just be in absolute peace.
But when the weather warms up, I head straight for the parks whenever I have the opportunity. Not to walk, not to hike, but to sit by the gurgling river for hours if my day allows me to.
Even if I only do it for half an hour or so, I have become accustomed to doing this, because it is my way of pausing life around others and focusing on myself in a sound environment.
Normally, I sit and read; as a literature major, I can get a lot done. Sometimes I stretch, and for a good chunk of the time, I simply sit and allow myself to just listen to my surroundings and get completely engulfed by it.
Something about not having to speak and just listening to the natural system around me genuinely affects me, causes this sense of peace and tranquility to grow within me.
With spring just around the corner and summer to follow, it’s important to be aware of how the natural world can not only allow us to reconnect with the planet, but provide us with its own kind of support. We are of this Earth, why not welcome its presence into our lives and accept the amity it provides, even if for 10 minutes?