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This Is Your Brain on Grass (No, Not That One)


It has been a long day. One problem toppling over the next like a bad game of Jenga. It is time for a break. It is time for some sweet, green grass. I need to go outside.

Dewy fall leaves scatter to the forest floor, slowing my mind. My shoulders roll back, removing my restrained laptop slouch. Peace.

When life pushes me (and it does) I find a remote wooded trail with not too many footprints and I take a walk. I always feel better after spending a little time outside. I can attest to the incredible healing powers of nature — but can science?

Chill Out and Smile

Whether I’m hiking in Yosemite National Park or chilling at a local spot, I always return from nature relaxed and happy. Turns out, it’s all in my head, literally. After 20 minutes in abundant green space, cortisol levels (the stress hormone) begin to rapidly decrease. Nature has been demonstrated in numerous scientific studies to improve mental health. Increasing a  person’s exposure to natural environments has been reported to improve their collective quality of life. People who spend more time in nature are more likely to report a greater satisfaction, at work and in relationships. Being in nature provides your mind with downtime, time to recharge. Not to mention, when we spend time outside we are more likely to be active, which increases dopamine and endorphins.

Spark Your Creativity

As a writer, my work is dependent on my ability to generate new ideas, articulating them in a way that keeps the reader entertained. (I hope I’m succeeding!) Nature is my go-to place when writer’s block hits. Turns out, this may be the best place for me. When you’re walking through a living mosaic of natural light cast upon whimsical greenery, inspiration is everywhere. Nature sparks creativity, effortlessly. University of Kansas professor  Ruth Ann Atchley found backpackers are 50 percent more creative after they spend four days hiking in backcountry. While digital media is a fantastic tool in moderation, it can harm our prefrontal cortex. Spending time outdoors, away from technology is nearly certain to boost your creativity.

Increased Attention

When you immerse yourself in nature, life slows down. You are not strapped to the the relentless, insistent buzzing of your phone. You are no longer multitasking in a digital frenzy. You can simply be. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) argues people can focus and reason better in nature. ART theorizes, nature modestly pulls our attention. We consume our stunning surroundings in leisure, at our own pace. In urban settings, stimuli are abrupt, direct, dramatic. Urban environments viciously compete for consumers’ attention, making it difficult to keep focus. Nature attracts our attention effortlessly allowing us more to time to consume our surroundings. Nature has nothing to sell, only to give.

Our environment shapes our perspective, playing a critical role in our mental health. Modernization demands us to make urban, city life a part of our daily lives. Most of the time, this is great. Cities allow us easy access to the people and resources we need. But on occasion, it is wise to get high on nature. Nature allows our minds to focus on what’s before us at our own pace. No rush. No pressure. Our minds are chemically wired to release “feel-good” chemicals when we are immersed in lush, green environments. The wild calls upon our creativity all while making us more alert. Get outside and play.

Where’s your favorite outdoor sanctuary? —Alex

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