If you’re a busy person — feeling like you’re juggling a million things, always on the go, and trying to fit one more thing into your schedule, you’re not alone. So many of us are living this type of busy lifestyle. We don’t prioritize rest or feel like it’s all that important. And frankly, a lot of us don’t know how to rest. We may complain about how busy we are, but we’re used to it, we’re more comfortable doing than simply being.
Spring is officially here in the Northern Hemisphere (even if you still have snow on the ground) and we’ll all be able to more easily get outside and spend time in nature very soon. So, I asked my colleague Robyn D’Angelo, LMFT to write this article about the mental health benefits of being in nature. I hope you’ll enjoy many of the calming effects of spending time in nature — especially if you’re a “go, go, go” person like Robyn!
How Nature Can Help You Quiet Your Mind: A Busy Person’s Guide to Resting
by Robyn D’Angelo, LMFT
A busy life, a busy mind
Sometimes fresh air is the only thing that will do it. The only thing that can pull me out of my head, out of my to-do list, out of my shoulda-coulda-wouldas.
And it’s not just any fresh air. Like, propping open the window in my home-office doesn’t suffice.
And driving-down-the-freeway-with-my-windows-down fresh air definitely doesn’t come CLOSE to what I’m talking about.
The only kind of fresh air that quiets my head-trash (negative thoughts), that muffles my anxieties, and that lifts the mental fog so that I can experience the brilliance of colors, smells, textures, and tastes, is the fresh air of being outside in nature.
I’m talking about mindfulness. Yep, you recognize that word, right? It’s all the rage, these days. Mostly because those of us who are constantly on the move (which is MOST of us) are in the MOST dire need for it.
Oh and guess what … we’re the ones who benefit most from it, too!
Why nature quiets your mind
As the total brain geek that I am, let my love for neuroscience take the wheel for a moment.
Your brain LOVES to be out in nature. There’s something called the “Three Day Effect” coined by David Strayer, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention. After three days out in nature, psychology students hooked to portable EEG devices to measure and record brain waves he noticed something really cool (and not all that surprising).
On the third day, their senses recalibrated. They smelled things and heard things they hadn’t before. Which means they thought about and experienced things differently.
Strayer’s hypothesis is that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command center, to dial down and rest, like an overused muscle. (Remember my mention of mindfulness earlier, yep … this is it. Slowing down enough to be present + TA-DA! Your brain recalibrates. It’s awesome.)
This means your stress hormones, heart rate, and brain waves are all impacted in a “restful” sort of way.
Why rest is your friend
So, I’m pretty good at what I call GSD. Getting shit done. I like to go. I don’t only like to go, I find myself “going going going” — moving from one activity (cleaning the house, doing laundry, looking at social media, + jamming out to tunes) to another.
I’m so great at going. What I’m not so great at is resting. Slowing down. Moving through my life consciously.
The studies on sleep deprivation as a torture tactic in war produces the same results as the sleep deprivation new parents experience. The brain cannot function properly without adequate rest. As a matter of fact, it actually gets damaged by the lack of rest.
I know what you’re thinking. “But Robyn, what about those of us who don’t rest well? What about those of us who also “go, go, go” out of habit or necessity?
Here’s my tip: Getting out in nature can be your mix of going and resting.
In nature, you can be on the go and rest, all at the same time
Just this weekend, I went on a hike with my husband (US Navy Veteran) and his brother (US Marine Veteran). Yeah, I was feeling a pull to show them I could not only keep up, but that I could actually lead the pack.
I hiked vigorously. I was almost running up the hills. I was huffing + puffing but I wasn’t stopping.
Some might say that’s not resting, or that I wasn’t being mindful because I was pushing myself but let me tell you why it was for me.
While we hiked, there were moments of silence. Where breath and rocks/dirt crunching under our feet were the only sounds I heard.
While we hiked, I noticed birds, bees, rabbits, and the brilliant blue sky.
I was mindful of not only what was around me, but what was going on within me. My breath, the lactic acid in my legs, the sweat dripping down my neck.
While I was moving, my brain and my nervous system were resting. They were recalibrating.
And this is what resting is for us “go, go, go” peeps.
So, how will you incorporate mindful rest while going this weekend?
What kind of devices will you disconnect from?
Where will you find your fresh air?
Who will you ask to join you?
Watch, listen, and experience… the recalibrating of your brain, the grounding of your nervous system and the sharpening of your senses.
Rinse + Repeat as often as possible.
About the author:
Robyn D’Angelo is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of The Happy Couple Expert private practice in Orange County, California. Robyn helps frustrated and disconnected couples learn to LOVE + BE LOVED, better. She walks them through how to connect deeply while creating space for fun. Robyn helps couples master the messiness of couplehood together and create their very own Epic relationships that last. Her unique blend of traditional psychotherapy, neuroscience + educating lends to her #LoveGeek meets #BrainGeek title. She believes in the power of kindness, science + good old fashioned romance.
©2018 Robyn D’Angelo.