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Using The Wilderness As A Tonic

August 14, 2015

Thoreau wrote, “we need the tonic of the wildness,” and a new study performed at Stanford University proves that he may have been onto something bigger than we thought. It turns out, spending just an hour or two walking or hiking in the wilderness can decrease ‘rumination,’ which is a pattern of thinking that leads to negative self-thoughts. This can be referred to as our inner critic.

Although this inner critic can be useful for introspection, it can lead to a regulation of negative emotion. Ultimately, when we are on this path of rumination, we are making our brains and bodies more comfortable with self-negativity. This consistency of negativity is one of the symptoms and results of depression. The participants in this study were mostly city dwellers, as the scientists predicted that their urban lifestyles might lead to an elevated level of rumination. Their experiences in the study were tested on paper and by having their brains scanned before and after a 90 minute walk in nature. The control group did not go outside however and just exercised indoors. It is known that exercise in general is effective in creating positive thoughts, but this study proves that doing that exercise in an outdoor setting can maximize the effectiveness. The variable in this study was of course the environment where the person is exercising or spending time.

Although walking outside in nature will not cure all symptoms of mental illness, it is a healthy mental activity and that can decrease stress and negative self-talk. Life can be pretty hard as it is. Sometimes going outside and taking a walk in a natural landscape can remind us that the world is bigger than humans and that there is joy and serenity to be found in sunlight, grass, trees, snow, water, and other animals.

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