The Nature Fix: The Three-Day Effect

Thank you to REI and Florence Williams for this wonderful read. Science is backing up what we already know about the healing power of nature. 

THE NATURE FIX: THE THREE-DAY EFFECT

written by: Florence Williams

Ken Sanders is a seller of rare books in Salt Lake City. Before that, he used to guide rafting trips down the Green and Colorado rivers for commercial clients and for his pals, like Edward Abbey. Starting on the third day, he’d notice the vibe of the whole group change.

“An awareness sets in that the river is now your new reality,” says Sanders, who’s been running rivers for 40 years. “The ritual of unloading the boats, setting up your campsite, gathering around the fire, sharing meals, etc. is now your day-to-day existence. It’s a bonding experience. Your old reality fades away.”

Sanders shared his observation with cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah. It immediately struck a chord with Strayer, an avid backpacker who noticed that some of his best ideas emerged after three days of camping out.

“Having hiked around the desert for years, I noticed in myself, and from talking to others, that people think differently after being out in the desert. Their thoughts are clearer, they’re certainly more relaxed, they report being more creative,” says Strayer. “If you can disconnect and experience being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.”

Strayer wanted to find ways to test what he started calling “the three-day effect,” a kind of neural reboot that might boost creativity. “I wanted to try to understand what was going on inside the brain,” he says.

So, for a study published in 2012, Strayer and his colleagues Paul and Ruth Ann Atchley from the University of Kansas administered tests to 28 backpackers before and after going on Outward Bound trips. Immediately after a trip, the participants performed 47 percent better in a word-test game that measures creative thinking and insight problem-solving. The game is called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT. It poses a series of three words; for example, tug, gravy and show. The test taker has to come up with the fourth word that fits with all three; in this case, boat.

“A near 50 percent improvement is huge!” says Strayer.

What caused it? Strayer believes the frontal cortex (our executive taskmaster) of the backpackers’ brains got a much-needed break. Strayer often studies networks in the brain, especially the attention network, which typically gets pretty fried in the normal course of life these days. So many things demand our attention: emails, pings, deadlines, chores, grocery lists, elusive parking spots, and, as William Wordsworth put it, all the “getting and spending.” The world, wrote the poet, “is too much with us.” And that was in the early 1800s!

When the attention network is freed up, other parts of the brain appear to take over, like those associated with sensory perception, empathy and productive day-dreaming.

“That first day in nature, your mind is recalibrating and you start to notice things a little bit, to unwind from the modern world,” says Strayer. “You notice cloud patterns, sounds and smells, and it becomes really acute. You don’t need a watch anymore. You forget what day of the week it is.”

The Strayer team’s results caught the attention of some other neuroscientists, such as University of Nebraska researcher Frank Ferraro III, who normally studies addictive behaviors. Curious to see if he could replicate the creativity findings, he gave a similar RAT test to college students before and after a six-day canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. This time he also had a control group, a bunch of students who would take the test six days apart in a classroom setting. The earlier results were confirmed: The campers showed a 50 percent improvement after the trip, but there was no meaningful change in the control group.

An older study suggests the cognitive surge isn’t just a vacation effect. In 1991 psychologist Terry Hartig and colleagues tested backpackers as well as people taking sightseeing and other types of vacations, and found increased performance only in the backpackers.

Now Strayer is drilling down further to a part of the attention network, the midline of the frontal cortex, where theta waves become active when we are performing demanding cognitive tasks. He already has data indicating those waves quiet down out in nature, but not, notably, if you’re using your phone at the same time.

His advice: Go outside for three days, and turn the phone off.

Ken Sanders agrees. “I think it takes the first two days and nights to wash away whatever veneer of civilization you have brought with you. The new reality begins on that third day.”

Borrowed on May 8, 2020 from:  https://www.rei.com/blog/camp/the-nature-fix-the-three-day-effect

TELE-MENTAL HEALTH

TELEMENTAL HEALTH – INFO & OPTIONS

Because mental health care is not an option or a luxury.

Due to the recent coronavirus outbreak, I am currently offering both tele-mental health and in-office sessions. Meeting online is safe and secure with a HIPAA compliant Zoom platform.

  1. Before your appointment, please download the required tele-mental health paperwork  (even if you are an existing client and have filled out the initial paperwork).  I will link the paperwork below once it is ready.  IMPORTANT – DO NOT email the paperwork back to me as it will contain private and sensitive information. Together we will determine the most appropriate way to get the paperwork back to me.
  2.  I’ll send you an invite to my online office via Zoom prior to your session. All  you need to do is get online, open your email and click on the link. 

Shinrin-Yoku

I’ve loved hiking in the woods ever since my Aunt Ree took me on my first walk in the woods as a small child. It felt like I entered a brand new world – a magical world of trees, moss and animals. A world apart from my normal everyday life, which was far from magical and far from peaceful. I still remember having my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with her on a stop along the trail. It was the most peace I had ever felt. Still today, I find solace in the woods, and hike as often as possible. 

Tomorrow I am taking a class in Shinrin-Yoku –  or “forest bathing”.  I already KNOW how great I feel after being in nature, hiking, kayaking, walking – but I’m excited to learn more about the health benefits of forest bathing from a scientific standpoint. Below is a great article written by Karin Evans and published in the Greater Good Magazine.

I’ve also added a quick 1 minute video (scroll down to the bottom) for those who don’t have the time to read the article; i.e. those of you that would probably benefit from a great forest bath  😉

Why Forest Bathing Is Good for Your Health

From the Greater Good Magazine – Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_forest_bathing_is_good_for_your_health#thank-influence

Though any kind of nature can enhance our health and happiness,
there’s something special about being in a forest.

BY KARIN EVANS | AUGUST 20, 2018

“Nature deficit disorder” is a modern affliction. With more people living in cities, working in high-rise office buildings, and becoming addicted to their innumerable electronic devices, many of us are indeed experiencing a nature deficit. This is true for children and adults alike.

In his new book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Japanese medical doctor and researcher Qing Li presents some sobering statistics: By 2050, according to the United Nations Population Division, three quarters of the world’s people will live in cities. Even now, the average American spends 93 percent of the time indoors, and some ten hours a day on social media—more than they spend asleep.

The Kumano Kodo trail in Japan

In Japan, there’s enough awareness about this deficit that Li heads up an organization called The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, which promotes research on the therapeutic effects of forests on human health and educates people on the practice of forest bathing. His book—a companion to the center he runs—explores research on these benefits, while offering a number of techniques we can use to enhance them.

“Some people study forests. Some people study medicine. I study forest medicine to find out all the ways in which walking in the forest can improve our well-being,” writes Li.

The history of forest bathing

Japan is a country that is both urbanized and heavily forested. Trees cover two-thirds of the island’s landmass, and yet a majority of Japan’s people live in crowded city conditions. Li himself lives in Tokyo, a city he describes as “the most crowded city in the world.”

Perhaps that’s why the art of “forest bathing”—shinrin-yoku—began there. Forest bathing involves slowly walking through a forest, taking in the atmosphere through all your senses, and enjoying the benefits that come from such an excursion.

In 1982, Japan launched a national program to encourage forest bathing, and in 2004, a formal study of the link between forests and human health began in Iiyama, Japan—a place particularly known for its lush, green forests. Now, each year upwards of 2.5 million people walk those forest trails as a way to ease stress and enhance health.

Li’s interest in forest research began when he was a stressed-out medical student. He went away for a week of forest camping, and found it restored his physical and emotional health. That inspired him to begin researching the benefits of forests on human health and well-being. In 2004, he helped found the Forest Therapy Study Group, aimed at finding out why being among trees makes us feel so much better.

The healing power of the forest

<a href=“http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/052555985X?ie=UTF8&tag=gregooscicen-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=052555985X”><em>Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness</em></a> (Viking, 2018, 320 pages)

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness (Viking, 2018, 320 pages)

After years of careful study, Li has found that spending time in a forest can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and anger; strengthen the immune system; improve cardiovascular and metabolic health; and boost overall well-being.

“Wherever there are trees, we are healthier and happier,” writes Li. And, he adds, it isn’t about exercising—like hiking or jogging—it’s simply about being in nature.

Why would this be? It’s long been recognized that humans have a biological need to connect with nature. Some 20 years ago, American biologist E. O. Wilson noted that humans are “hardwired” to connect with the natural world, and that being in nature had a profoundly positive effect on human health.

Li’s research seems to corroborate this. For example, one of his studies looked at whether forest bathing could improve sleep patterns among middle-aged Tokyo office workers who tended to suffer sleep deficiency due to high levels of stress. During the study, participants walked the same amount of time in a forest that they usually did in a non-forest setting on a normal working day. After a walk in the forest, participants were significantly less anxious, slept better, and slept longer. In addition, researchers found that afternoon walks were even more beneficial than morning walks.

“You sleep better when you spend time in a forest, even when you don’t increase the amount of physical activity you do,” reported Li.

To further assess the effects of time spent in a forest, Li measured people’s moods before and after walking in the woods or in an urban environment. While other studies have shown that walking anywhere outdoors reduces depression, anxiety, and anger, Li found that only the experience of walking in a forest improved people’s vigor and reduced fatigue.

The health secrets of trees seem to lie in two things—the higher concentration of oxygen that exists in a forest, as compared to an urban setting, and the presence of plant chemicals called phytoncides—natural oils that are part of a plant’s defense system against bacteria, insects, and fungi. Exposure to these substances, says Li, can have measurable health benefits for humans. Physiological stress is reduced, for example, and both blood pressure and heart rate are lowered. Evergreens—pine, cedar, spruce, and conifers—are the largest producers of phytoncides, so walking in an evergreen forest seems to have the greatest health benefits.

How to do forest bathing

So, is there a specific art to forest bathing? Or is it just as easy as a walk in the woods?

Connecting with nature is simple, writes Li. “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest.” Here are some of his suggested steps.

Find a spot. Depending where you are, find a good source of nature. One doesn’t need to journey deep into a forest for these benefits. Just look for any green area. It could be an urban park, a nature preserve, or a trail through suburban woods. Forests with conifers are thought to be particularly beneficial.

 “Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you,” Li says. Some people will respond to sunny glades, others to shadier places. Listen to your own wisdom. For people who don’t have access to a forest, or can’t get outside for some reason, infusing essential tree oils in your home can provide benefits, too.

Engage all your senses. “Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet,” says Li. Actively listen, smell, touch, and look. “Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.”

Don’t hurry. Slow walking is recommended for beginners. And it’s good to spend as much time as possible. You’ll notice positive effects after twenty minutes, says Li, but a longer visit, ideally four hours, is better.

Try different activities. Try doing yoga in the woods, or Tai chi, or meditation. Take a picnic. Write a poem. Study plants. You can venture alone, or with a companion. In Japan, forest walking therapists are even available.

Appreciate the silence. One of the downsides of urban living is the constant noise. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a wooded area that’s free from human-produced sound. Silence is restorative, and a forest can have its own healing sound—rustling leaves, a trickle of water, birdsong. Spend a few quiet moments with a favorite tree. If nothing else, when we connect with nature we are reminded that we are part of a larger whole. And that, Li notes, can lead us to be less selfish and to think more of others.

Li’s book, which includes illustrations and a map of “40 Beautiful Forests Across the World,” is an invitation and an inspiration to take a walk in the woods, wherever you are.

VIDEO:  What is Japanese Forest Bathing and How Can It Improve Your Health?

10 Ways to Strengthen Your Self-Care and Self-Love Practices

By Shahida Arabi, July 17th 2014

Taken from:  https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2014/07/10-ways-to-strengthen-your-self-care-and-self-love-practices/  on January 20, 2019

  1. Remove the clutter from your life.

This includes physical, emotional, and interpersonal clutter which only serves to detract you from focusing on your personal growth. Self-care and self-love require the space and energy to expand yourself, improve yourself, and to reach higher levels of spiritual and psychological well-being. You can’t achieve this by allowing unnecessary excess in your life.

Clean the physical spaces where you live, because physical clutter can affect your mindset every day. An organized, tidy living space can do wonders for your mood and help you to complete tasks more quickly because everything has its place. Cut the toxic interactions with people you don’t need in your life which are only bringing you down. Stop allowing negative people to take up the space in your mind, heart and soul — they don’t belong there and the ruminations you’re engaging in over them are virtually useless. Refine your to-do list — stop trying to do a million things every day and instead, prioritize the main tasks which are most important to you and closest to what you value in life.

Remember, quality beats quantity when it comes to self-care, so invest only in relationships and friendships that make you happier, pursue only the goals that are true to your deepest desires, and save your energy and talent for those worthy of you.

  1. Give yourself unconditional love every day, no matter what.

Unfortunately, no one can really give this to you except yourself. Human beings, while capable of extraordinary love and compassion for others, still love others conditionally. When I say unconditional love, I truly mean unconditional, unlimited, infinite love. It may seem impossible to achieve, but do the best you can to love yourself regardless of whatever circumstances you may have in your career, relationships, status, power, finances, and so forth.

I highly recommend reading the book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant to understand how to enter into a mindset of self-love with a simple mantra. Loving yourself unconditionally also means loving all of you — your flaws, your strengths, your secrets, your weaknesses. Every part of you is important, unique, and worthy of love. When you give yourself unconditional love, you find yourself recognizing people who don’t give you the full acceptance you deserve, which makes it easier to clean out the interpersonal clutter as mentioned above.

  1. Take care, holistically.

Creating a balance between work and play is essential to maintaining holistic self-care. Don’t focus just on one aspect of your life when it comes to self-care. Energize your body, nourish your spirit, and enlighten your mind. Meditation is important for your spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being. Yoga, Pilates, dance cardio, and running are great ways to get into shape and improve your mood. Eating mindfully will also help you to achieve optimal levels of energy and fitness while making your body less vulnerable to disease.

Writing, reading, and taking classes that interest you will keep your mind sharp, alert, and always learning. Don’t forget to maintain an active social life in the form of healthy relationships and friendships, as these are essential psychosocial resources that will serve as a crucial source of support and enhance your enjoyment of life.

  1. Have high standards and stick to them.

Self-respect is crucial to self-care because it protects you from settling for less when you deserve the best. This is toxic to how you view yourself and how you allow others to treat you, your values and your boundaries. If you allow others to trample over your expectations constantly, you’re debasing your worth and chopping away at your self-esteem.

You might be afraid that if you have high standards for yourself, people might perceive you as a high-maintenance person and even abandon you in the process. Let them. It doesn’t matter — in fact, it’s probably a good thing that they do abandon you and reveal their true colors. At the end of the day, your opinion of yourself and what you deserve is all that truly matters in life.

Having high standards in your career and relationships protect you in the long-run from scammers, emotional predators, and exploiters from sucking you dry and leaving you drained. Think of things that fall below your standards as a bad business deal. You’re not getting what you need and want out of it, but the person on the other side is. It’s not worth the investment if someone else is benefiting from the positive return.

  1. Pursue your true passions.

Life is too short to waste your energy by allocating resources into goals that are not truly your own. Caring for ourselves means remaining authentic and recognizing our true passions. Don’t be pressured into picking a certain career path just because society says it’s the right one for you; don’t always settle for crappy jobs just because they’ll pay the rent; don’t pursue a major just because of its financial rewards unless it’s something that really interests you.

Sometimes you will have to make do with what you have in order to survive, but be sure you’re still looking for ways to improve yourself and progress to something better and something that represents your true calling. For example, if you’re a waiter who dreams of writing the next big screenplay, continue working on it when you have the time. Setting aside time to pursue your dreams is important because these are things no one can take away from you. You own the right to all of your dreams and the ability to make them come to life.

The key is to still be practical, but also to be passionate. You were not meant to live this life doing just what is required to survive; you were meant to live life chasing your dreams. Don’t be afraid of failure, because failure is a learning experience that will strengthen you and prepare you to do better in the future.

Would you rather sit around and live in the regret of not knowing what would’ve happened if you had tried, or would you rather lead an exciting life by taking on risks and challenges that will ultimately lead you to what you were meant to do?

It’s okay to explore multiple interests and talents; you don’t have to limit yourself to one pursuit. However, if you do have that one dream that’s been pulling at your heartstrings, start chasing it now. If you want to write a book, start by writing a blog or start writing the chapters to the book. If you want to go back to school, start looking up different programs.

Take small steps today to start paving the path to tomorrow. Achieving long-term goals and big dreams are possible so long as you put the effort into making them happen. The most successful people I know are not just passive dreamers; they are active chasers who make an effort every day in order to accomplish their goals.

6. Minimize people-pleasing.

Nobody wins when it comes to people-pleasing, except a person on the receiving end that’s out to exploit you. Our tendency to people-please takes away from our authentic self, drains us of our energy, and deprives us of our ability to take care of ourselves in meaningful ways. By creating falsehoods in our relationships and interactions with others, we detract from who we were meant to be and pigeonhole ourselves into being who we’re not just to please others.

Be confident that who you are and the things you want, feel, and experience are completely valid. You don’t have to change to gain someone else’s approval; if someone disapproves of you, that’s okay. Rejection is not about your self-worth — it’s about another person’s wants, needs and preferences. Don’t see it as a selfish thing to honor your true self; it’s not selfish, it’s self-care and self-love.

7. Be mindful.

Many of us go through life mindlessly and this detracts from our experience of present joy. This mindlessness is exacerbated by our fast-paced, technologically advanced society. We are so absorbed in social media and the buzz of our phone that we forget to appreciate the everyday, simple pleasures that come our way. The humming of the birds, the color of the sky, the beauty of someone’s smile, the colorful and delicious food in front of us — these are all things we should be mindfully enjoying.

Being attentive, aware and alert to our surroundings and the present moment is vital to experiencing each moment of life more fully and enhancing its joy. So make sure to take at least a couple of hours each day where you release yourself from the distractions of technology and enjoy nature, be engaged with whomever you’re with, and immerse yourself in the conversation you’re having.

If you need help in doing this, start writing in a journal about the various things you observed during the day and how attentive you were to them. It takes practice to be more mindful in everyday life, but it’s a worthy practice since it greatly enhances your experience of life’s everyday moments.

8. Cultivate a lifelong habit of gratitude.

Being grateful shouldn’t be set aside for the holidays; it should be a way of life. Think of gratitude as another important component of mindfulness and as a lifelong habit that should be practiced every day. It teaches you to be mindful of the things you take for granted every day, from basic things like your ability to see and walk to the bigger accomplishments like having a good job, access to education or a supportive network of friends.

Whether during times of strife or times of bliss, it’s helpful to write in a gratitude journal and take note of all the things you have in your life — remember, these are the same things that other people may be praying for.

9. Give back to the world you live in.

Remember how we talked about your unique talents and goals? This is one of the best incentives for exploring them. You are part of a larger world that needs your help. Whether it’s through volunteering, research, activism, teaching, there are a myriad of ways to give. Find creative and engaging ways to help others whenever possible, whether its sharing resources or investing your time and energy into a cause you care about.

You are here for a purpose and that purpose is tied to benefiting this world in positive ways. As you learn to love and care for yourself better, you’ll also have more positive energy, love and compassion to give to those around you. Embrace your destiny and change the world.

10. Honor and validate your feelings. All of them.

As someone who would qualify as a HSP (highly sensitive person), I know how tough it can be to honor and validate your feelings in a world that’s becoming highly desensitized to emotions and meaningful relationships. However, this last self-care commandment is perhaps the most important one of all. If you can’t honor and validate your own emotions, you’ll allow others to belittle and invalidate them, which means you’re permit toxic people to enter your life without thinking twice.

You’ll make yourself vulnerable to gaslighting, manipulation, coercion, and abuse. You’ll settle for less because you believe that your feelings don’t matter. Guess what? They do. You have to live with your emotions every day. That’s why it is so vital that you learn to honor them.

Validate every emotion you have, even if you think it’s inappropriate or “wrong” somehow. Emotions aren’t meant to be rational, by the way. They are meant to be signals that provide information about situations you’re experiencing or thoughts that you’re having. Honoring and validating your emotions means telling yourself, “It’s okay that I have these feelings. It’s valid that I have them. These emotions are telling me something about this experience. Now I have a choice on how to react to them.”

You don’t have to make your decisions based on your emotions alone, but you should consider them in the decision-making process when it comes to relationships, friendships and personal goals. Honor your feelings and you’ll honor yourself. 

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