Did you get outside this weekend?
(Here in Wisconsin it was absolutely glorious!)
Did you bask in the sunshine? Did you stroll through a park?
Did you hike through a forest or set of local woods?
If you did, you may have noticed your mood improving and tipping wildly towards happiness and joy.
Perhaps you noticed you felt more reflective and able to work through whatever your current set of life challenges might be.
If you concluded the state of your health and well-being is connected to the amount of time you spend in nature, you’d be correct. It turns out there is an entire body of research dedicated to better understanding exactly how our brains are influenced by nature.
Nature, Morphine for the Brain:
Authors of Your Brain on Nature, Eva Selhub and Alan Logan, and medical specialists in their own right, point to research using fMRI machines (a brain imagining technique) which revealed this: the brain exposed to aesthetically pleasing nature views like coastal vistas or mountain panoramas, fired up a very specific portion, an area rich in opiod receptors which happily enough “have connections to the brain cells within the dopamine reward system and, as such, have the potential to trigger feelings of wellness.”
In terms you and I can easily grasp, they describe this effect like this: “nature is like a little drop of morphine for the brain.”
It turns out when the opiod receptors are activated, people are less likely to perceive themselves as stressed, they are more likely to form social bonds, and they tend to dwell less on negative memories, and focus, instead on the positives.
Selhub and Logan underscore a hugely important fact: “Our perception of stress, our mental state, our immunity, our happiness, and our resiliency are all chemically influenced by the nervous system and its response to the natural environment.”
On the flip side, studies also tracked which parts of the brain are activated when exposed to urban scenes – architecture, heavy traffic, trains, bridges, towers, etc. – and found pronounced activity in the amygdala and anterior temporal pole.
The amygdala is the part of your brain designed to keep you safe by responding to danger, including environmental threats. The amygdala, once it is amped-up on a regular basis (think city skylines and the commute to and from work) it fuels the brain’s fear pathways generating higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and eventually chronic stress.
Nature, Visual Valium:
So, what does all this research mean for you and I?
It means we need to be extra attentive to getting enough Vitamin G – a big dose of glorious, natural GREEN found outside in nature.
Nature has this beautiful way of interacting with our nervous system and is instrumental in calming down our hyper-active amygdala.
Spring is FINALLY here, so go get your green on!
An ideal daily dose of green is thirty to forty minutes.
Turn off your TV.
Turn off your phone.
Make a date with Mother Nature.
Go for a stroll in your city park. Hike a tree-lined trail in a local county park. Follow the footpath along the creek.
At the very least, sit on your deck and listen to the birdsong.
You’re guaranteed a reduction in your stress, an improved mood, and a deeper sleep.
Best of all, the vigor and aliveness that eluded you this winter, will find you again.
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I would love to connect with you. Let’s boost your sense of contentment and satisfaction. We’ll go exploring to find the just-right, easy, absolutely yummy, happiness strategy to add into your life.
Please reach out to me HERE; Let’s have a conversation. It is YOUR time to THRIVE.