As an urban dweller, I am all too familiar with how the sights and sounds of the city can be grating for the nerves and induce stress reactions in the body and mind. It takes vigilance to find ways to reconnect with nature when you live in a more urban environment, but the latest research suggests that city dwellers should do just that to maintain their health and wellbeing.
The discovery of the structural plasticity of the brain—the brain’s ability to form new neural connections and rewire itself based in part on environmental exposures—places a larger burden on people to expose themselves to enriching environments from the perspective of the health of the brain. Such a notion is consistent with research that has highlighted the role that exposure to nature can play in calming the mind and enriching one’s mental health and wellbeing.
For instance, in summarizing one recent study, Reynolds (2015) writes that:
A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.
Such a discovery is particularly telling given that our immersion in digital technology has taken many of us away from nature and transmitted so many of our interactions into a virtual realm. Even if we are strolling through a park or outside, we may be too distracted by our screens to actually look up at the sky or notice the scenery.
Nature can be soothing for a number of reasons, not least of which is that there is a certain stillness and quiet that can be gained from being outdoors in lush and green environments that is masked when we are walking outside on busy streets with a lot of traffic, other people, and man-made sounds such as that of construction, the ear buds in our heads, etc. To the extent that our senses can be overloaded in modern culture, the opportunity to reconnect with the spirit can be enhanced by reconnecting with nature and more basic stimulations.
So whether it is taking the time to plan an outdoor excursion, walking through the woods, sitting on a park bench, or even just walking outside without scrolling through one’s cellphone or use of other digital stimulation, whatever your geographical circumstances, try to integrate more natural spaces into your day to day exposures. Such natural exposures can refresh both the brain and the spirit, leaving one better able to handle the modern stressors that come from our ever changing and stimulating cultural landscape.