This Is Your Brain On Nature

You're stuck in traffic on an ugly Monday and the phone won't quit and the texts won't stop and dinner's pizza has gone cold and the radio is squawk, squawk, squawk, 'til you lose your patience. Where the heck is a tree when you need it? Wait… What? A tree? You bet. That's all science says we really need.

It's called brain fatigue, the mental Rubicon we cross when life's barrage of noise, haste, and demands overloads our cranial circuits and reduces us to overly forgetful short-attention-span shadows of our former selves.

For the cure, we turn to Scotland's intrepid scientists, who used new portable electroencephalograms to study the brain waves of people on the go. Overstimulated test subjects jacked up their readings walking all over urban Edinburgh. Until they got to a park. Then their readouts became meditative and they entered a state known as "involuntary attention," where the mind is engaged but so effortlessly that there's still mental space for peaceful contemplation.

Simply put, their brains got a tree break that boosted relaxation and eased stress. The rest of us could use one, too. In today's maxed-out world, making time for nature is vital. But the forces that leave us stressed usually leave little time for  gambols through the greenery. Here's how to change that:

  • First, commit! Just as we should pay into our retirement accounts before we pay our bills, we should carve out some time for nature before spending it elsewhere. Look at this way: It's cheaper than therapy. Put it on the calendar if necessary!
  • Know where your local nature lies. It's a lot easier to go when you can go without thinking. So keep a mental list of nearby destinations. Use NatureFind to hunt them down if you need help.
  • Take your to-do list. Work on your laptop under the trees. Take your breaks, make your calls, and eat your meals there. Do small tasks on a park bench via phone or tablet. At Seventh Generation, we literally used to conduct entire meetings on nearby trails. It works!
  • Create structure. Nature is easier to enter as part of a daily routine. Make it your lunch spot. Take a nightly post-dinner walk. Put a park between you and regular errands.
  • Keep a bag with your nature necessities by the door so you can grab the sunscreen, bug juice, water bottles and more without stopping.
  • Time it right. Misery is antimotivational, so if it's cold, stick to the heart of the day when the sun is strongest. In the heat, go mornings or evenings.
  • Think small. You don't need a day in a national park. Ten minutes in a micropark will do. And you don't even need that. There are whole worlds waiting in a vacant lot or even a single flower if that’s all you can find.
  • Do it with others. Start an informal nature club that will regularly get you into the Great Outdoors. The Children & Nature Network has everything you need.

Still not convinced you should go? Read The Nature Principle, by Richard Louv. You won't look back. And once you're under the trees, you won't want to.

Photo: Garry Knight

written by:

the Inkslinger

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!

See more from the Inkslinger