Art therapy can be the quiet yet powerful missing piece when teens feel stuck and unable to verbalize their feelings and experiences.
Louie Schwartzberg beautifully demonstrates how a connection and deep respect of nature inspires awe and gratitude. His talk and life's story will remind you how important it is to keep our sense of wonder alive and give our children opportunities to do the same. Beauty can heal us!
I have a confession; the nature world absolutely amazes me! I can sit and watch a 12 inch by 12 inch square of earth and see a whole universe! The sunsets. The sunrises. The vivid colors of flowers and butterflies. The way the mist dials back all the colors and the way the rising sun then burns it off, transforming the landscape into a vivid painting. A rainbow. A flower appearing magically in my yard that I did not plant. The way an owl hoots at what seems like the exact moment I needed to hear it, somehow validating or confirming a thought or a decision I was struggling to make. It all amazes me. This connection to nature takes me from my busy monkey brain of to-do lists, worries, criticisms, cynicism, and overactivity to a place of profound presence and stillness. That is powerful stuff my friends!
Connection to Nature Improves Cognitive Function
Our connection to the natural world is not only meant to be an enjoyable hobby. It is actually quite critical to our health and well-being. In fact, science can now tell exactly why we feel so much better after we spend time in nature.
David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist with the University of Utah, has studied the effects of nature on performance and brain function. “Motivated by large-scale public health problems such as obesity, depression, and pervasive nearsightedness, all clearly associated with time spent indoors, Strayer and other scientists are looking with renewed interest at how nature affects our brains and bodies.” (Williams, 2016) His research has shown that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains that regulates complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning, to rest, much like an overused muscle (Williams, 2016).
Time in Nature Reduces Stress
In Japan, several studies clearly demonstrate a reduction of stress by spending time in the woods. Research led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki at Chiba University, studied 84 participants who were sent to stroll in seven different forests for approximately 15 minutes, while the same number of participants walked around urban cities. The participants who walked in the forest experienced a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate (Park, Tsunetsugu, Kasetani, Kagawa, Miyazaki. 2010). In fact, in Japan they have a term for this called “Shinrin-yoku”, or taking in the atmosphere of a forest, and have gone as far to rate each forest for the amount of positive energy you can expect by strolling through it.
Natural Mood Enhancer
In Finland, the government funded research which asked thousands of people to rate their moods and stress levels after visiting both natural and urban areas. Their findings indicate that even short visits to urban nature areas have a positive influence on mood, and lower cortisol levels resulting in a formal recommendation that people get a minimum dose of nature (about five hours per month) to ward off the blues. (Tyrväinen, Ojala, Korpela, Lanki, Tsunetsugu, & Kagawa. 2014)
How can you encourage your teen to spend more time outdoors?
Encourage them to go outside every day! It doesn't matter if it’s your backyard, a nearby park, a little car ride to a forest nearby, a trip up to the lake or nearby river, or a whole weekend as a family camping in the remote woods. Just get them outside. Even just 20 minutes with some direct sunlight everyday improves Vitamin D levels and mood!
Encourage them to join outdoor activities like a rock climbing club, hike trails with friends, mountain bike in the Metro Parks, snowshoeing, downhill or cross country skiing clubs, archery classes, or anything they might be naturally drawn to do. Consider going bigger with programs like Outward Bound or Coyote Trails in the summer!
Most importantly, model the behavior and invite them along! The benefits of time spent in nature are just as powerful for adults! By reconnecting to nature yourself you will not only reap the same rewards you may also foster deeper connections with your teen discovering new adventures and activities together!
Jody R. Pittner, LPC, ATR
P.S Grab your Free Nature Effect Worksheet to help you talk with your teen about the importance of getting outside! It even includes local area resources! Just pop in your email address for instant access.
P.P.S And don’t forget our Fall Art and Nature Camp for teens ages 12-18 is now enrolling!! The deadline for enrollment is September 30th so hurry!!! Enroll Now!
P.P.P.S Every Saturday until September 30th you can meet the instructors of the camp! This week meet Sandy and Cal Reed, our Primitive Living Skills Instructors! Watch the Video!
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1), 18.
Williams, L. (2016). This is your brain on nature. National Geographic Magazine. Article downloaded from: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/
Tyrväinen, L., Ojala, A., Korpela, K., Lanki, T., Tsunetsugu, Y., & Kagawa, T. (2014). The influence of urban green environments on stress relief measures: A field experiment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38, 1-9.
As I try to write my first blog post, I think of all the information we now have at our fingertips. I can barely remember a time before Google and Facebook, yet I survived without a phone and information being available 24/7. As a mom and therapist I also wondered to myself if this constant contact with technology is now replacing deeper, more meaningful connection to ourselves and each other.
I feel it in my own family as we settle in after long days, each separately experiencing to world without one another, only to go to our respective comfy spots to connect to our various devices. Hours pass and I think we would all be hard pressed to relay what we each even read, viewed, or watched. What did we do before these distractions? I wonder to myself, were we a closer family then?
Contact is not Connection
While we may be able to text someone and get instant replies, see our nephew's birthday photos on Facebook, and be in constant contact with our loved ones, contact is not connection.
Have you ever been aware of the difference when you contact someone versus when you truly connect?
Connection has these 3 Qualities
True Connection is Felt in the Heart: Next time you are speaking with someone notice where your awareness travels. Is it in your mind, as if the contact is simply a box to be checked off? Or can you really sense and feel the connection you have with that person in your heart?
True Connection Enlivens You: Do you remember the last time you really had a great conversation with someone? What was it about that exchange that felt so good? Many times it is simply that you felt seen and understood. Your basic need for human connection and compassion was met.
True Connection is a Craving: If we pay attention, over time when all we have done is made contact with someone mind to mind, text to text, post to post, we may find a craving for something more. We may begin to feel isolated or alone despite our many "contacts". This is because we need connection as much as food, water, and shelter.
Make Time for True Connection
Don't be fooled by constant contact. To end the cycle of contact-only communication, try:
Call a friend and talk to them in a quiet place with no interruptions.
Establish a "no phone" rule with loved ones so they know you expect and wish to really be present when you are together.
Leave your phone home and take walks or go places without the temptation of constant contact.
Practice awareness when you are with someone and truly feel your connection to them in your heart,
With a few subtle changes and a commitment to true connection, you to can begin feeling more satisfied by your relationships. My hope for you is that you and your family experience less contact and more true connection.