Want to live a happier life and have a more productive work day? Take the scenic route to work. The concrete commute that most city dwellers experience on the daily may be having a larger impact on the psyche than you think. Beyond the concrete jungle that we more and more fail to escape on a regular basis exists an environment that may help you combat stress, depression, and anxiety.
The isolation of being locked up in offices and high rise condominiums is being linked to psychological disorders including depression, anxiety and a short attention span at work. New York Times article, How Nature Changes the Brain by Gretchen Reynolds, found that people who live in cities spend more time ‘brooding’, a term meaning a renumeration of thoughts in your mind as to what is wrong with yourself and your life. The study compared those who lived in high density urban settings to those who had more exposure to greenery and trees.
So what if you don’t have a park on the route to work or cannot give up the highway commute? There is still hope. The Journal of Environmental Psychology suggests that even small mental breaks viewing nature can help aid off psychological issues such as reduced attention span. The study looked at subjects that viewed either concrete or green spaces and found that the ones who viewed the natural environment made less errors and were more consistent responding to given tasks. Living and working surrounded by thousands of people and concrete drains your mental resources that are critical for attention. While in opposition, viewing trees, parks, and green spaces on a regular basis, helps create a more calm and active mind.
So how does nature help with depression and anxious feelings and give us a greater sense of focus? From a logical perspective it makes sense that being surrounded by thousands of people, heavy traffic, and concrete would make us feel more anxious, and unhappy. But why would nature have such a large effect on our brains? Nature gives the brain a sense of calmness and peace. The presence of trees, water, and open spaces of greenery transitions the mind into feeling an escapement from everyday concerns. It brings the simplicity back into life. Nature literally changes the brain.
And not only are the people who have more exposure to natural settings mentally healthier, but they also enjoy a higher quality of physical health as well. A convincing example in the New Yorker, What a Tree is Worth, by Alex Hutchinson, showed that patients given hospital rooms that looked over spaces with trees as opposed to a brick wall, recovered faster. In fact , researchers are discovering that surrounding yourself with nature can be one of the most powerful stress-relievers out there.
As unlikely as it is to take a twenty minute detour for a scenic route or to move to a park surrounded area, there are small changes that you can implement into your life today. Change your desktop background to outdoor scenery or hang visual art of the sky and ocean on your wall. Spend more of your breaks outside, plan more trips to the park or runs along the water. Vote in favour of green roofs, and of course make an effort to get into nature and enjoy it. We tend to complicate the cures for anxiety and depression when in fact being in a calm and natural environment may just be what you need.
Featured photo credit: A Couple Walking in a Park via flickr.com
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