The great outdoors

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Even after living on a relatively rural island in Florida for more than 20 years, I still consider myself a city girl. I burn easily in the sun and bugs love to bite me, so I really don’t like spending time outdoors all that much. But a study done by researchers at the University of Michigan has given me incentive.

People have always been urged to commune with nature to reduce stress, but just how much time was needed and what kind of experience would do the trick weren’t known.

Lead author of the research, Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, says people who spent 20 minutes a day in nature saw a significant reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. The “nature pill” prescription is sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature.

Participants were studied over an eight week period. They were to spend 10 minutes or more, three days a week anywhere outside that made them feel like they’d interacted with nature. There were a few constraints to minimize factors known to influence stress: take the nature pill in daylight, no aerobic exercise, and avoid the use of social media, internet, phone calls, conversations and reading.

The 20 to 30 minute window produced the highest reduction in cortisol. After that, the benefit continued but at a lesser rate.

I guess I can spare 20 minutes outside on a stressful day, and what day isn’t? How do you feel about taking a “nature pill?”

 

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What do you say when you talk to yourself?

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One of the facets of emotional intelligence is the ability to control one’s emotions. Researchers at Michigan State College and the University of Michigan have discovered a simple technique.

Talk to yourself in third person. There is a name for this–illeism. Who knew?

For example, when I’m stressed, instead of my thinking “Why am I upset?” I should think “Why is Fran upset?” You know how it’s always easier to think clearly about someone else’s problems? This works the same way. Isn’t that genius? Just that tiny bit of psychological distance apparently does the trick.

This has all sorts of implications. Could it be used to treat those with PTSD? Or what about addictions?

My suggestion: if you try this at home, do the talking silently. Referring to yourself in the third person out loud is a wee bit pretentious.

 

How big is your pond?

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Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. Researchers at the University of Michigan say it depends on your cultural upbringing.

In three different tests, people with Chinese heritage were twice as likely than those with Western European heritage to choose the small fish option. They preferred having less than mediocre grades at a top ten college over high grades at a top 100 college.

Were the Chinese American students more harmonious and less concerned with standing out while the European Americans more individualistic? Nope. It all came down to prestige.

My roots are showing. I’d definitely go for the high grades at the lower ranked school. The study assures us there is no right or wrong choice, but it’s interesting to ponder how much our upbringing affects what we do.