Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Facebook | Twitter | Home RSS
 
 
 

The nature of anxiety and depression

February 11, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer (apeterson@esthervillenews.net) , Estherville News

Editor's note:?As the Estherville News continues its look into nine causes of depression and anxiety, we get outside to talk about how connection to nature helps with mental wellness.

British author Johann Hari released a groundbreaking book, Lost Connections, in which he delves into the science that backs a combination of genetic predisposition to mental disorders like anxiety and depression with an increasingly disconnected society that's making us sick.

Hari is clear that he's not saying genetics and neurobiology have no effect on depression. Instead the brain and our genes respond to signals from the world. Experience changes the brain.

Article Photos

Amanda Olson, founder and Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Champion State of Mind in Estherville said, "Nature and the outdoors absolutely can help someone with mental health. For example, we will suggest that someone try walking outdoors or engaging in some type of activity outdoors such as a sport, swimming, hiking or meditation."

Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1862: "When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods. What would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?"

Thoreau went on for 12,000 words about the wonder of walking in untamed environments. Psychologists have proven him right. Exposure to nature has been shown repeatedly to reduce stress and boost well-being.

Fact Box

"I used to be able to hike the trails on a nice day and not see anyone. Over the 22 years since I've come back to Estherville, on a nice day it's rare that I don't meet lots of people out on the trails, whether it's an older person, a group of younger people, or a couple of moms with babies in strollers. Even though the baby won't remember the specific experience of being outside in nature, I'm certain they are benefiting from it."

-John Wittneben

Scientists have not been sure why. Is it the air? The sunshine? An evolutionary favor toward greenery?

Olson said there are benefits beyond the mind to connecting with nature. "Being connected to nature can help someone regulate their cardiovascular and nervous systems, as well as bring a sense of serenity to the human mind. Recommending that someone connect with nature is just one of many skills that we suggest to our clients to help them reach their overall wellness goals."

Researchers at Stanford believe the nature effect might stem rumination, that pattern in which maybe someone is very sad and can't stop thinking about the sadness and its cause: the breakup, the layoff, that biting remark. There's a part of the brain that lights up when negative emotions arise. If that band, the subgenual prefrontal cortex, gets overstimulated, it becomes difficult to get out of the negative thought patterns, which some call stinkin'thinkin', and move on.

Decreases in rumination are linked to positive distractions, like taking part in a hobby or enjoying a long chat with a friend. Yet, Hari said, with the rise of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, people are less likely to try to help their friends shake off the ruminations. Anti-stigma movements tell us it's a brain chemical issue and should be regarded as any other health issue. The positive intention of this is to ensure a person with mental illness is not treated worse than a person with a physical illness.

The brain is a more complex organ, however, than, say, the pancreas. That's why, when Hari was on top of a mountain taking in the altitude, the air, the height, the sky, the land, he felt like he was seeing a screensaver.

Really. The peak of Tunnel Mountain and the craggy land and the town of Banff in Canada all hit Hari's senses the way a photo on a computer screen would.

He had been inside looking at screens for so long, the natural world had become unreal.

Oxford researcher Isabel Behnke, who had led Hari up Tunnel Mountain, said we must remember first of all that we are animals. She indicated her body and said, "This thing is meant to move."

John Wittneben of the Friends of Ft. Defiance said, "I absolutely feel getting out in nature is vital to mental and medical health." Wittneben said the repair and maintenance the Friends have completed on the trails and beyond have increased use of the state park on the southwest side of Estherville.

"I used to be able to hike the trails on a nice day and not see anyone. Over the 22 years since I've come back to Estherville, on a nice day it's rare that I don't meet lots of people out on the trails, whether it's an older person, a group of younger people, or a couple of moms with babies in strollers. Even though the baby won't remember the specific experience of being outside in nature, I'm certain they are benefiting from it," Wittneben said.

When depression hits, the person feels trapped in their mind, trapped inside, afraid to move, to experience life, to let nature absorb them. Without nature, human animals miss the sense of awe, the sense that the world is big, the person is small, the realization of the deeper and wider ways in which humans are connected to everything around them.

Weather can be a barrier to getting out in nature in Emmet County. However, the Emmet County Conservation Board is hosting Winter Exploration at the Lake Sunday, Feb. 17 from 1-4 p.m. with snow shoeing, survival skills & shelter building, a snowman building competition, games, crafts, and more.

Wittneben said he has seen more people cross country skiing and snowshoeing at Ft. Defiance.

"Start from where you are and find something you enjoy in the outdoors," Wittneben said.

 
 
 

 

I am looking for:
in:
News, Blogs & Events Web