Friday, May 13, 2022

How Nature Affects The Brain

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Examples Of Nature In Psychology

How Does Being in Nature Affect Brain Health?

Nature has a deep-rooted meaning in psychology that encompasses the core components of our existence, including our genes. The popular nature-nurture concept in developmental psychology explores all the variables that shape and influence the relationship that our internal and external worlds share.

The Biophilia Hypothesis delved into the human relationship with nature in 1984. The concept was initially used by German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm who described biophilia as the love for everything that is alive. The idea of biophilia was later expanded by American biologist Edward O. Wilson, who proposed that the human inclination towards nature has a genetic basis.

The Mind And Mental Health: How Stress Affects The Brain

Stress continues to be a major American health issue, according to the American Psychological Association. More than one-third of adults report that their stress increased over the past year. Twenty-four percent of adults report experiencing extreme stress, up from 18 percent the year before.

Its well-known that stress can be a detriment to overall health. But can stress actually change the physiology of the brain? Science says yes.

How Walking In Nature Changes The Brain

Phys Ed

Gretchen Reynolds on the science of fitness.

Editors note: Though this article was first published last summer, were featuring it again because its always a good idea to get outside and into nature.

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.

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?

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

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Too Much Time In Front Of Screens Is Deadly

Nature deprivation, a lack of time in the natural world, largely due to hours spent in front of TV or computer screens, has been associated, unsurprisingly, with depression. More unexpected are studies by Weinstein and others that associate screen time with loss of empathy and lack of altruism.

And the risks are even higher than depression and isolation. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, time in front of a screen was associated with a higher risk of death, and that was independent of physical activity!

Spend Some Working Hours Outside

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Most working professionals today have the flexibility to access daily tasks outside . We can choose to spend a part of our working day out to avoid the monotony of the cubicle and the same old office space.

It may be one conference in the garden or lunch at the local park, anything that can logically amalgamates with nature. Spending some time outside alone or with co-workers gives an instant boost of freshness to the mind, thereby reducing the stress and frustration that comes from working tonelessly for hours at a stretch.

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Build Natural Downtime Into Your Schedule

When a piece of technology is dragging or not responding to certain commands, the typical solution is to reboot it. Do the same for your brain. In our technology-obsessed culture, most people take a short break by scrolling through their phones. However, that doesnt help much with letting your mind restart because the constant electronic stimuli can trigger or exacerbate your anxiety. There is a real benefit to putting the devices down.

In my book, Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind, I describe how downtime can refresh your brain and help you to become more creative. Studies have demonstrated that outdoor exercisecalled ecotherapy or green exercisingcan decrease anxiety. Shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing, is the traditional Japanese practice of immersing oneself in nature by mindfully using all five senses. Its been associated with feelings of relaxation and awe, both of which may help your anxiety. Being immersed in nature can alsoimprove your creativity.

Build time into your day for quick nature walks, even if its just the last 20 minutes of your lunch break. Not only will the unfocused time help you feel more refreshed, but it will also help you to calm down.

Natural interventions might not take your stressors away, but they can decrease the anxiety that these stressors bring. Try out these tips and see how your anxiety symptoms improve.

The Profound Effects Of Nature On Our Brain Health

One resource that is often overlooked in the discussion regarding brain health is nature. Nature includes all the aspects of the physical world around us that are not human-made, such as plants, animals and landscapes. Research proves how beneficial spending time in nature is for us, but are we listening?

Our distant ancestors were intimately tied to nature, as survival depended on finding food and being aware of predators and other hazards. As we have slowly shifted to urban lifestyles, many of us no longer have a connection to nature, beyond an occasional walk in a green space or park.

In Japan, people practise something called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. People dont hike, or jog or exercise. Instead, they connect with nature through the different senses, sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch and relax. Doesnt this sound wonderful? Even better, there are real health benefits to simply being in nature.1

Many of our modern jobs do not require us to work with the natural aspects of our environment. While some of our daily tasks are completed outdoors, most arent rooted in working with natural elements directly. Unfortunately, our brain health and overall well-being suffer when we dont spend enough time in nature.

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Leading Causes Of Stress

Stress occurs for a number of reasons. The 2015 Stress in America survey reported that money and work were the top two sources of stress for adults in the United States for the eighth year in a row. Other common contributors included family responsibilities, personal health concerns, health problems affecting the family and the economy.

The study found that women consistently struggle with more stress than men. Millennials and Generation Xers deal with more stress than baby boomers. And those who face discrimination based on characteristics such as race, disability status or LGBT identification struggle with more stress than their counterparts who do not regularly encounter such societal biases.

The Relationship Between Nature And Human Health

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A recent survey report launched by scholars out of Deakin University demonstrated some practical points as to how human and nature are entwined with each other.

Although the study had other focal areas and did not concentrate on a massive global sample, the report that came out was used and shared widely by environmental psychologists and social scientists to explain the relationship we have with our physical habitat.

The major assertions of this report were:

  • Staying close to greeneries such as farms, parks and fields increase chances of related outdoor activities . This improves mental health and physical fitness in adults and children who live there.
  • Nature-friendly urban settings can be useful in promoting social connections and interpersonal communication.
  • Contact with nature in any form enhances spiritual health and fills the mind with a deeper insight into life.
  • Children who are encouraged to spend more time outdoors are owners of good physical and mental health. They are less prone to problems like obesity, asthma, childhood anxiety, and depression, and are more focused on their lives than others.
  • Adolescents who had a close connection to nature were emotionally well-balanced and had better coping skills than other children of their age.
  • Aged people, who had access to green parks felt more positive and hopeful.

Sir David Attenborough, one of the most popular nature enthusiasts the world has seen in a long time, had fairly quoted that

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Critical Periods And Sensitive Periods: What’s The Difference

Brain development research distinguishes between sensitive periods and critical periods of development. Understanding the difference is very important for recognizing what infants and toddlers need early in life. The information presented in this guide centers mostly on sensitive periods.

Critical periods represent a narrow window of time during which a specific part of the body is most vulnerable to the absence of stimulation or to environmental influences. Vision is a good example: Unless an infant sees light during the first 6 months, the nerves leading from the eye to the visual cortex of the brain that processes those signals will degenerate and die.

Prenatal development, the period before a baby is born, also includes critical periods. Remember the drug thalidomide and its effects on prenatal development? Women who took the drug between the 38th and 46th days of pregnancy gave birth to infants with deformed arms, or no arms, Women who took the drug between the 40th and 46th days of pregnancy gave birth to infants with deformed legs or no legs. Women who took the drug after the 50th day of pregnancy gave birth to babies with no birth defects or problems.

The Nature Of Early Brain Development

At birth, the human brain is still preparing for full operation. The brain’s neurons exist mostly apart from one another. The brain’s task for the first 3 years is to establish and reinforce connections with other neurons. These connections are formed when impulses are sent and received between neurons. Axons send messages and dendrites receive them. These connections form synapses.

Figure 1Neurons mature when axons send mesages and dendrites receive them to form synapses.

As a child develops, the synapses become more complex, like a tree with more branches and limbs growing. During the first 3 years of life, the number of neurons stays the same and the number of synapses increases. After age 3, the creation of synapses slows until about age 10.

Between birth and age 3, the brain creates more synapses than it needs. The synapses that are used a lot become a permanent part of the brain. The synapses that are not used frequently are eliminated. This is where experience plays an important role in wiring a young child’s brain. Because we want children to succeed, we need to provide many positive social and learning opportunities so that the synapses associated with these experiences become permanent.

How the social and physical environments respond to infants and toddlers plays a big part in the creation of synapses. The child’s experiences are the stimulation that sparks the activity between axons and dendrites and creates synapses.

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How Nature Affects Your Brain

A call of the wild

Have you ever noticed that people that spend lots of time outside are naturally more grounded, relaxed and calm? This does not stem only from a persons character or personality, or natural tendencies, there is a scientific explanation for this, as studied by cognitive psychologist David Strayer, and reported in an article by the National Geographic.

Its no surprise that nature does our overstressed brains a favour. Our brains, arent invincible, tireless, 3 pound processing machines, they are prone to fatigue. Slowing down and stopping the busy work while appreciating the natural surroundings leaves us feeling restored and also improves our cognitive performance.

Nature lowers stress on a wild west coast beach. How can you not feel calm in this environment?

Three day test

When Strayer was camping with a group of 22 psychology students in Utah, he explained to them the three day effect. In three days, a type of mental cleaning occurs after being immersed in nature long enough. In fact, a test of Outward Bound participants showed that they performed 50 per cent better on creative tests after three days of backpacking in the wilderness. Strayer also measured brain waves to prove this, by hooking himself and his students to an EEG. The results showed that nature quiets the activity in the prefrontal cortex, our brains main command center, proving what we feel after being outdoors.

How Nature Affects The Brain

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— “For the first time in three days in the wilderness, Todd Braver is not wearing his watch. “I forgot,” he says. It is a small thing, the kind of change many vacationers notice in themselves as they unwind and lose track of time. But for Braver and his companions, these moments lead to a question: What is happening to our brains? Braver, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, was one of five neuroscientists on an unusual journey. They spent a week in late May in this remote area of southern Utah, rafting the San Juan River, camping on the soft banks and hiking the tributary canyons. It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.”

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Research Suggests That Mood Disorders Can Be Lifted By Spending More Time Outdoors

Looking for a simple way to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and maybe even improve your memory? Take a walk in the woods.

“Many men are at higher risk for mood disorders as they age, from dealing with sudden life changes like health issues, the loss of loved ones, and even the new world of retirement,” says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. “They may not want to turn to medication or therapy for help, and for many, interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use.”

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It Can Help Decrease Activity In Areas Of The Brain Linked To Depression

A study published in PNAS in 2015 found that participants who walked for 90 minutes through a green park on campus, versus strolling next to a loud nearby highway, exhibited âquieterâ brains and dwelled less on the negative aspects of their lives in follow-up brain scans and questionnaires. They also experienced decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with depression. Basically, walking in nature was shown to have an almost immediate positive effect on overall mood.

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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, youre tapping the prefrontal cortex and causing reductions in cognitive resources, he says.

In a 2012 study, he and his colleagues showed that hikers on a four-day backpacking trip could solve significantly more puzzles requiring creativity when compared to a control group of people waiting to take the same hikein fact, 47 percent more. Although other factors may account for his resultsfor example, the exercise or the camaraderie of being out togetherprior studies have suggested that nature itself may play an important role. One in Psychological Science found that the impact of nature on attention restoration is what accounted for improved scores on cognitive tests for the study participants.

Basic Tenets Of The Psychology Of Environment

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The psychology of environment works around the following main ideas .

  • Human dependence on nature validates evolution. We are more adaptive to natural settings than human-made habitats.
  • Contact with natural light is therapeutic and has immediate positive effects on stress, blood pressure, and immune system.
  • Strong connections to the environment enhance the person-space idea and increase environmental perception.
  • Humans are always capable of improving the environment they live in.
  • Humans are active adapters to changes in society and the environment. They reshape their social identities and affiliations according to the physical space they live in.

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Stanford Researchers Find Mental Health Prescription: Nature

Study finds that walking in nature yields measurable mental benefits and may reduce risk of depression.

Go to the web site to view the video.

Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

A Stanford-led study finds quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression

Feeling down? Take a hike.

A new study finds quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression.

Specifically, the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world, said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Our findings can help inform the growing movement worldwide to make cities more livable, and to make nature more accessible to all who live in them.

More than half of the worlds population lives in urban settings, and that is forecast to rise to 70 percent within a few decades. Just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression.

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