Someone once said, “We should have 100 hugs a day to stay healthy.” This saying is a lot like having an apple a day. We hear stories that back this adage up: people waking up when those they love hold their hand or how important it is to hold babies as they begin their life’s journey. Touch is a powerful way to communicate with others. One article found on the Good News Network is about making physical connections with each other through hugs that conveys how much each person means to one another.
Hugs are comforting and help us flourish.
People require touch with other living beings in order to feel cared for and grow into caring individuals. In the article, Science of Kindness Shows Just How Important Hugging is for Our Mental and Physical Health, by David Fryburg, MD, “The importance of physical contact was painfully observed in the orphanages of Romania: children who were provided food—but not held or hugged—had significant developmental and socio-emotional delay accompanied by smaller brains.” The lack of touch, connection, and hugs affected how these children behaved, and the development of their brains. Similar studies have shown animals have the same underdevelopment and health issues when subjected to social isolation.
On a less extreme note, touch affects our response to daily conflicts we experience. A group of researchers interviewed 404 adults for 14 days regarding their health and any conflicts. Additionally, the researchers inquired how these adults felt emotionally and whether or not they received hugs. The people who had some form of interpersonal conflict and were hugged reported feeling happier and more grounded for the day. A bonus is that the hug helps both people involved!
Keep the Doctor Away…
On another note, research has produced “evidence that hugging may favorably influence the rate of infection from a cold as well as symptoms.” Also, hugs help reduce blood pressure and relieve stress. When we hug, we get a good boost of the love hormone oxytocin.
Hugs are not the only form of touch that helps us feel better mentally and physically. Other types of touch that share the same beneficial elements are holding hands and massage. Most of us know that massage can decrease pain related to a variety of conditions, such as back pain and migraines. “[Physical touch] affects the biochemistry that mediates pain or sadness and can also lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol, improve immune responses, stimulate the vagus nerve, and change EEG (brain wave) patterns.” One example is premature babies, where light massage for 15 minutes over a week caused a significant increase in necessary weight gain. This is a complementary study to the Romanian orphans mentioned above, where massage helps babies flourish.
Overall, we can see a clear connection between hugs, our health and happiness. The physical connection not only decreases stress but also helps nourish and heal us so we can recover and grow. It is remarkable that we naturally can help care for and heal each other. If we reach out and connect with each other, we can find ourselves to be happier and healthier.
If we are not able to get a physical hug, there are a variety of tools that help simulate hugs, like a weighted blanket. Also, we can get a similar effect when we see images of other people hugging or a gentle touch. “This work is consistent with Envision Kindness’ own research on how images of kindness and compassion—many of which capture caring touch or hugging—are a proven and potent way to induce joy, love, optimism, and connection. Thus, by simply looking at these images, people can experience lower levels of stress and greater joy.”
Of course, viewing images of people or animals hugging needs to be rounded out by the real thing when possible. Very few things are perfect substitutes, hugs are best from those you love and have a caring connection with. A hug is a gift to someone else and to yourself.
Would you like to read more caring blogs? We have other blogs on topics on UCA benefits: Medical Bill Negotiation, Nutrition to Help Prevent Depression, and Gut-Brain Connection! If you would like caring messages throughout the week, follow us on Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter!
meditation and yoga
At times life is chaotic, stressful and noisy. Luckily, there is a self-care tool available to use that can help calm the chaos of everyday. Additionally, this tool can help improve your health! This tool is meditation, also known as mindfulness activities or quiet reflection. Oftentimes when we quiet our minds, we are better able to cope with our everyday lives, during high-stress times, and even improve our overall health.
What is Meditation?
Meditation has many forms, but all forms have four main elements: a quiet space, feeling comfortable, a focal word or image, and allowing our minds to let go. For hundreds and hundreds of years, meditation has been used for increasing calmness and relaxation, coping with and healing illness, and enhancing our well-being. We can see how meditation has increased in popularity over the past five years; the number of people using meditation and meditation techniques has grown by 5%-15%.
Looking for Meditation How To?
When we look around the internet, there are many different articles and videos about how to meditate, much like the 15 Minute Healing Meditation: You Are Your Own Healer / Mindful Movement. Unified Caring Association (UCA) has a variety of meditation videos to help our members start and maintain a self-care routine that includes meditation. Our list includes videos and audio files that are uplifting and positive, relaxing and rejuvenating, as well as for healing and physical health.
How does it help with our health?
Stress can increase our heart rates, blood pressure, breathing and more. It is harmful if the stress is experienced over a longer period of time. Our adrenal glands become taxed and “…overproduce the hormone cortisol. Overexposure to this hormone can affect the function of your brain, immune system, and other organs.” (Harvard Health Publishing) Recently, health studies have shown that meditation has beneficial effects in combating stress, thus preventing adrenal gland “burnout.” Meditation is a way to be productive while your attention is focused inwards. This self care induces more relaxation. “Meditation is thought to work via its effects on the sympathetic nervous system, which increases heart rate, breathing and blood pressure during times of stress. “It will help you lower your blood pressure, but so much more: it can help your creativity, your intuition, your connection with your inner self, says Burke Lennihan, a registered nurse who teaches meditation at the Harvard University Center for Wellness. (Harvard Health Publishing)
Results from research on meditation and the brain have been published and reviewed for years now. Benefits of meditation, or quieting the mind, are “…now being confirmed with fMRI and EEG instruments. The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions.” (Harvard Health Publishing) This reduced activity allows for creativity and problem solving to dominate without overtaxing the mind. (a.k.a. it basically becomes effortless and allows for new solutions to present themselves.)
One form of mindfulness or meditation is yoga. Most of us are familiar with yoga from the numerous studios dotting the streets and the even more videos online. Unified Caring Association also has a select list of videos to help members with their mental and physical health. An example is the YouTube video “Yoga for Complete Beginners” that blends the two ideas of yoga and meditation seamlessly. In this video, we are walked through a 20 minute meditation yoga combination that gets the body moving while the mind becomes restful.
If you are looking forward to reading more about Unified Caring Association and other caring acts, check out our other blogs: Volunteering for Health, It all Starts with Self-Care, and Monitoring Health with Biofeedback. Or visit our website to check out our Caring News, membership benefits, and other healthcare tools! Would you like more? Follow us on Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter!
Want to have a lifestyle that is more relaxing? What if we could develop a habit that will keep us rejuvenating, support healing, healthier choices, and allow us to sleep better each night? We at Unified Caring Caring Association (UCA) want to help share caring and ways for everyone to live a happy and fulfilling life. One way to set ourselves up for success is to practice mindfulness activities (A.K.A. meditation). With a clear mind, we can set effective and attainable goals. Want to learn how to start a lifestyle habit? Read on for a “how to.”
For over a thousand years, meditation has been used for increasing relaxation and mental resilience. This resilience helps enhance overall well-being and health. Over the past five years the number of adults meditating in the U.S. has increased to 15.5%, and 5.5% of children are also meditating.
There are four main elements that most meditation formats have in common:
Meditation: In Depth – This is an article that gives a great summary of meditation and research on how meditation helps us free up space in our brain to be able to make better decisions. In this article is a three minute Q&A video with Dr. Amishi Jha about her definition of what mindfulness is.
Another way to learn more about meditation is to jump in and try it out. Here are two samples of videos that UCA members have access to:
Meditation helps us get set for our day and going through the week with clear heads. With an open and flexible mind we can tackle the mountain of dishes in the sink and the quarterly board meeting all in the same day. When children become more adept at meditation, it can help them focus in school and allow for a boost of energy to get them through the football game. We at UCA are happy to help people build happy and healthy lives filled with gratitude and success. Meditation and mindfulness are both positive influences toward that goal.
Would you like to read more about UCA caring resources? We have other blogs on Mental Strength, How Can Mindfulness Help Us Solve Problems, and Letting Go of Being Good! If your would like caring messages throughout the week, follow us on Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter!
Nothing evokes a feeling of dancing like the natural rhythm of a heart beat and the sway of the trees. We often have a natural inclination towards rhythm and music. We can see this in the unconscious swaying in a crowd during a moving piece of music, or when small children clap their hands when they are listening to music they like. This unconscious and spontaneous response relates to a human need for connection and expression of emotions, specifically happiness.
Unified Caring Association (UCA) celebrates different techniques and tools for developing and improving emotional intelligence and communication. Much like Moonbeam Feeling Packs, or the caring apps found on our website to help grow caring children and teens, music and dancing can help people express emotions. Almost every culture around the world has some form of music and dance. It has been “…discovered that people of different cultures react emotionally in the same way when listening to different types of music.” (Jennifer Delgado) Dancing and music help us communicate in social networks and are also useful for our mental and physical health. According to recent studies, a key to happiness is found through dancing.
And a 1-2-3-4
Psychologists at the University of Örebro tracked a group of teenagers who suffered from social and mental difficulties. Half of the group was asked to join a dance class that met twice a week; the rest continued with their daily routines. After two years, the psychologists found that the group that attended dance classes had less stress or anxiety and felt happier
This was backed up by another study conducted at the University of Derby. These psychologists worked with those suffering from depression. This group received “salsa” lessons for nine weeks. After only four weeks, improvements began to appear. After finishing the course, participants said they had less negative thoughts as well as improved concentration and a greater sense of calm, peace and tranquility.
Dance is an excellent therapeutic resource and has a positive effect on our lives. Australian researchers from Deakin University conducted an interview of 1,000 people. They found that the people who were dancing were feeling happier, more satisfied with their lives, relationships and health. Additionally, these people who incorporated dance into their lives were more easily able to achieve their goals.
Still need more to convince you? There is another report of psychologists at the University of New York, who discovered similar effects in children. 120 children, ages 2-5 years old, were exposed to different types of sound stimuli. Some of these stimuli were rhythmic and others were completely arrhythmic. The children that heard the rhythmic sounds followed the rhythms with body movement and showed more positive emotions and felt happier. If we take all four of these studies and put them together, we have a strong case for having a tendency to move to the beat of the music, and that dancing helps us feel happier.
The Science as to Why Dancing Improves Happiness.
While dancing, our brain releases feel-good endorphins that help us feel comfortable, relaxed, like we are having fun and are empowered. “Music and dance do not only activate the sensory and motor circuits of our brain, but also the pleasure centers.” (Jennifer Delgado) We at UCA agree with neuroscientists at Columbia University who claim that when we move along with a rhythm, positivity is amplified.
Our bodies also respond to dancing in positive ways. As we move, our muscles relax, allowing us to sink further into the music and dance. Our bodies can easily release tension built up during the day. Our bodies become happier and more fluid in their functions, as well as more resilient to the daily activities.
Dancing is not just all about us and our brains. It is also a way to connect with others as much as connect with yourself. Dancing allows us to “…share experiences and meet new people, which has a very positive effect on our mental health.” (Jennifer Delgado)
If we are to do something each week to help promote our happiness, we can dance. Dance in your kitchen, go to tango classes, or turn up some fun tunes and jump around with your kids! All of these will help your mind and body feel better and promote a happier connection with others.
Would you like to read more about UCA caring resources? We have other blogs on Mental Strength, How Can Mindfulness Help Us Solve Problems, and Moonbeam for Emotions! If your would like caring messages throughout the week, follow us on Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter!
We at Unified Caring Association (UCA) are no strangers to the chaos of life. Sometimes the chaos is overwhelming and we get lost in a sea of “things-to-do” while the world seems to be against us. Fear not, because there are ways to simplify your life through organization, mindfulness and self-care routines.
A Caring Journey
While reading an article on https://simonsinek.com/, we were moved by the author’s (Kristen Hadeed) journey from realization to caring acts that helped them out of their slump. It all started when Kristen was at work, feeling frustrated and discouraged before a big, long team meeting. The first thing she did was to be honest about how she was feeling when asked. “I told everyone how I truly felt without sugarcoating any part of it.”
What Kristen experienced was an incredible blossoming of support via the team listening. We often forget that our peers, family and friends are here to support us with caring thoughts and acts. Kristen painted the image perfectly when she recounted that “[her] team listened. They hugged me. They helped me make sense of my feelings. They validated them.” Kristen has a super team because they took the caring two steps further. “They owned their part in what led to me feeling the way I did. They came together and created a plan to move us forward.”
Dealing With Discouraging Moments…
Discouragement is something we all can encounter in our lives. What we do in those moments makes all the difference. Below are some suggestions that Kristen Hadeed used to achieve success in dealing with her discouragement.
Taking the time to reflect on your day and feelings brings clarity. This clairity helps us become more in tune with our emotions (i.e. helps build emotional intelligence). “I was able to pinpoint how I was feeling last week and what was causing it.” (Kristen Hadeed)
Being honest with others and yourself is crucial. If something is causing you to feel negative and down, one of the worst things you can do is minimize it. Stuffing feelings inside like a turkey on Thanksgiving is one of the most tragic things you can do when feeling discouraged. We can all related to Kristen when she writes, “If you pretend your feelings don’t exist and sweep them under the rug, they’ll continue to build and build and build. Eventually you’ll explode, and when you do, it won’t be pretty.” If you are honest with yourself and those around you, you are able to let go of the negative emotions, build a plan, and begin self-care efforts. Remember, no one can help you if they are not getting any communication from you. People are not mind readers. As Kristen expressed above, her team created a caring support net for her and helped her develop a plan to dispel the discouragement.
Answers Can Come From All Around
To tie into honesty and communication, solutions can come from more than one place. We can find some within ourselves, from the people we know, or even researching online. “When we’re emotional, we’re usually not logical. When we’re too close to the problem, we’re usually not able to see a clear path forward…You invite people in, you give them a chance to make a difference, and you build trust by showing that you’re human. Asking for help is courageous.” (Kristen Hadeed)
Reprioritize and Organize
Taking caring action is the next step. One reason we can feel discouraged is because we are over-extended. Setting up your to-do lists in sections with labels for the level of importance and how time sensitive they are. If the task is not crucial, it can wait until later. There is nothing wrong with hitting that pause button and picking that task up later. Better yet, maybe there is a way to share or delegate the task out to get it off your plate completely!
Reflecting on how many good things happen each day is a quick and easy way to alleviate stress and get rid of discouragement. Kristen lists around ten things she is thankful for before starting the day. We can also can do this at night in the form of a gratitude journal. If ten seems to be a bit much, start with three and build from there. The consistent flood of gratitude will help reset your brain, wiring it to be more open and positive.
Refuel To Reset
Think about what energizes you. What things do you love to do that bring out your best attitude? These are different for each person. For some it is dancing, or painting, and for some others it could be meditating in a quiet forest. What ever refuels you will help reset your emotions and energize you to maintain the caring actions that prevent discouragement.
We all get discouraged at times, but what we do in those moments is key to our success. Taking time admit and express our feelings honestly give us space to take time to build a self-care plan, act on it, and reset our minds (and lives). I addition to our blogs, we at UCA have many tools for our UCA members to help assess their personal well-being, and build a self-care routine that will help maintain positivity and success in their lives.
We love sharing UCA caring news and resources, research, and caring acts in our community through our website and blogs. Or would like to receive more Unified Caring Association caring notes throughout the week? Follow us on: Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter! We are looking forward to sharing more with you, our caring community!
Unified Caring Association (UCA) spreads caring in many ways, one of which is through sharing caring research. Often we see notes about how feeling happy more often helps us feel healthier. Recently we came across an article by HarvardHealth Publishing that suggests that there is scientific evidence that positive emotions can result in a longer healthier life. We are all for that! Want to know more? Here are the short notes on how happiness can equal health.
Start on Happy Things
Begin with what makes you happy. Playing with your pets, helping the elderly at a senior center, or painting are just some of the things that people like to do that brings them happiness. Doing things that make you happy also help lower stress levels. Continually and consistently doing things that make us happy lowers our stress levels and could reduce risks of health problems like a heart attack.
3 Pathways to Happiness
During their research on positive psychology, Research Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson examined three pathways to happiness: feeling good, engaging fully and doing good. As seen through the testing of hundreds of volunteers and focus groups, it was found that these pathways contribute to happiness and life satisfaction.
Feeling good relates to our ability to seek pleasurable emotions. These emotions focus on reaching happiness in an effort to maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain.
Engaging fully in the pursuit activities that “…engage us fully, from the influential research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. For decades, Csikszentmihalyi explored people’s satisfaction in their everyday activities, finding that people report the greatest satisfaction when they are totally immersed in and concentrating on what they are doing.” (https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-happiness-health-connection)
When we are doing good and doing caring acts that helps others we generate more happiness. More poetically put, doing is “searching for meaning outside yourself, tracing back to Aristotle’s notion of eudemonia, which emphasized knowing your true self and acting in accordance with your virtues.” (https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-happiness-health-connection) This is a feeling that can happen when you are “getting in the flow.”
How can you know you are in the flow?
What does it mean to be in the flow of things? Is it a fast paced atmosphere where everything seems to be going your way? Or is it when we spend time laughing with those we love? Check out some suggestions below on ways to get in the flow.
-Time just flies by and you realize that you have been working long and hard without feeling tired. The “loss” of time is no big deal, and you would probably do the activity again.
-Your mind is not occupied with your activities of your internal thoughts. “You aren’t focused on your comfort, and you aren’t wondering how you look or how your actions will be perceived by others. Your awareness of yourself is only in relation to the activity itself, such as your fingers on a piano keyboard, or the way you position a knife to cut vegetables, or the balance of your body parts as you ski or surf.” (https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-happiness-health-connection)
-You are present in the moment. This means not thinking about the daily “to-do” list that is sitting on your desk, refrigerator, etc. An example is that you aren’t thinking about such mundane matters as your shopping list or what to wear tomorrow.
-Keeping an active mind and an active body. This can be done through learning music, reading books, playing sports, or going for a hike.
-You work effortlessly. “Flow activities require effort (usually more effort than involved in typical daily experience). Although you may be working harder than usual, at flow moments everything is “clicking” and feels almost effortless.” (https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-happiness-health-connection)
It is clear that whatever we choose to do, if it makes us happy, it is good for our health. When we do good we can get a bonus boost when we are helping others feel good too!
Unified Caring Association is constantly striving to help create a more caring world. We love sharing more caring information on our website and through blogs that share caring in our community, activities, and reviews. We also send out caring posts on our social media accounts (Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter) to give inspiration throughout the week.
Broken Heart Syndrome
“No other organ, perhaps no other object in human life, is as imbued with metaphor and meaning as the human heart. Over the course of history, the heart has been a symbol of our emotional lives… The very word “emotion” stems in part from the French verb ‘émouvoir’, meaning ‘to stir up.’ And perhaps it’s only logical that emotions would be linked to an organ characterized by its agitated movement.” (Jauhar) We at Unified Caring Association (UCA) continue to research and learn more about caring for others and for ourselves. In this journey we discovered a well spoken TedTalk by Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist and writer. In his presentation, we hear about how our emotions can in fact change the shape of our hearts.
The TedTalk from the Heart
Doctor Jauhar eloquently leads us on a journey during his speech. He recounts stories and examples of how the heart is affected by the mind and emotions felt by patients who are extremely happy or sad. “…we have come to understand that the connection between the heart and the emotions is a highly intimate one. The heart may not originate our feelings, but it is highly responsive to them.” (Jauhar) Doctor Jauhar continues on to explain how the nerves that control our unconscious processes like our heartbeat, can sense distress. This distress can trigger an abnormal fight-or-flight response that is often seen by signs similar to heart failure. Some examples are blood vessels constrict. The heart rate begins to gallop and there is an increase in blood pressure. All of these symptoms often result in damage.
In recent history we have been more prone to seeing doctors uphold a scientific biological approach to heart. However with newer research and imagery we can literally see the heart organ change shape in response to emotions. “[The heart is] more the domain of doctors like me, wielding technologies that even a century ago… were considered taboo. In the process, the heart has been transformed … into a machine that can be manipulated and controlled.” Doctor Jauhar states that there is a golden nugget resulting from this breakthrough. These techniques and solutions that doctors are currently prescribing to their patients need to be complemented by caring attention to the emotional well-being. This is reflecting upon the descriptions of the heart dating back to classical history. This is an era where it was believed that the heart was the seat of all thoughts and emotions; our lifeline.
To help explain this concept of how emotional health aids physical heart health, Doctor Jauhar cites a study published in the British journal “The Lancet” in 1990 called Lifestyle Heart Trial. This was a study based on a group of patients that had coronary (heart) disease. A portion of the group was given a ‘standard’ treatment plan (a.k.a. the control group). The other portion of the group was given an intense set of lifestyle changes. These changes included diet and exercise, stress management assistance, and support group activities. In the end, the group that was prescribed the intensive lifestyle changes by far was healthier than the control group. What is also interesting is “…some patients [placed] in the control group adopted diet and exercise plans that were nearly as intense as those in the intensive lifestyle group. Their heart disease still progressed. Diet and exercise alone were not enough to facilitate coronary disease regression. At both one-year and five-year follow-ups, stress management was more strongly correlated with reversal of coronary disease than exercise was.” (Jauhar)
Broken Heart Syndrome
It appears that Doctor Jauhar is correct when he says, “…the emotional heart intersects with its biological counterpart in surprising and mysterious ways.” (Jauhar) This is best seen through a heart disorder that came on the scene about 20 years ago called “takotsubo cardiomyopathy”-“broken heart syndrome.” This is a disorder where the heart acutely weakens in response to intense stress or grief. Some examples of this syndrome are the sudden end of a romance or the death of a loved one, and even during a large widespread social upheaval, like a natural disaster. Doctor Jauhar displays a picture on the screen behind him of a normal heart, a broken heart and a takotsubo urn for which the syndrome is named.
The heart image in the middle is the broken heart, and looks very different from the normal healthy heart on the left. “It appears stunned and frequently balloons into the distinctive shape of a takotsubo, shown on the right, a Japanese pot with a wide base and a narrow neck. We don’t know exactly why this happens, and the syndrome usually resolves within a few weeks. However, in the acute period, it can cause heart failure, life-threatening arrhythmias, even death.” That is very serious. Interestingly, broken heart syndrome can be on set in relation to an extremely happy event as well. The main difference seen here is that the heart appears to react differently. The heart has ballooning in the midportion and not at the top as when the syndrome is from strife. Either way broken hearts are deadly, figuratively and literally.
Animals Feel this Too
In 1980, the journal Science published findings on caged rabbits. These rabbits were fed a high-cholesterol diet in an effort to study cardiovascular disease in the rabbits. Much to the scientists’ surprise some rabbits became more diseased than others. “The rabbits had very similar diet, environment and genetic makeup. They thought it might have something to do with how frequently the technician interacted with the rabbits.” (Jauhar) The same high-cholesterol diet study was repeated with the rabbits, but they were divided into two groups. The one change was how the scientists interacted, or ignored the rabbits. “… in one group, the rabbits were removed from their cages, held, petted, talked to, played with, and in the other group, the rabbits remained in their cages and were left alone.” (Jauhar) After a year it was found that the rabbits who were interacted with and felt loved had 60% less aortic disease than the ignored rabbits. This is interesting because the rabbits as a whole all had similar cholesterol levels, blood pressure and heart rate.
Keeping up with a Health Trend
It can be said that we are reaching the limits to what we can do for our heart health when we rely purely on biological processes. To keep the trend of discovering new ways to stay heart healthy something has to change. We will need to begin incorporating emotional health with our physical health. We can do this in various ways including strengthening our emotional intelligence. Doctor Jauhar clarifies that “The American Heart Association still does not list emotional stress as a key modifiable risk factor for heart disease, perhaps in part because blood cholesterol is so much easier to lower than emotional and social disruption.” (Jauhar) Taking the easier path is appearing to be less of a good long-term strategy.
To keep up with our heart health we will need to begin using tools to increase our emotional well-being too. “Perhaps, if we recognize that when we say “a broken heart,” we are indeed sometimes talking about a real broken heart. We must, must pay more attention to the power and importance of the emotions in taking care of our hearts.” (Jauhar)
Watch the full TedTalk by clicking here!
Would you like to read more about UCA caring resources? We have other blogs on Unified Caring Association, caring in our communities, and caring the UCA way! If your would like caring messages throughout the week, follow us on Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter!
As quoted above, Henry David Thoreau says so much about the caring link between nature and its effects upon us. In previous blogs we we wrote about how connecting with nature can help reduce stress and help us get grounded while helping us promote our happiness. We have recently noticed a green, growing trend of incorporating nature and gardens into city planning. This excites us and we are all for more greenery in our lives!
NYC’s Rain Gardens
New York City has been a leader in ‘going green’ for awhile now. Recently the city has commissioned a major expansion to their official Green Infrastructure Program. This expansion is to include curbside rain gardens in areas like Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. These uniquely designed gardens will “…absorb millions of gallons of stormwater each time it rains, beautifying neighborhoods, improving the health of our waterways and making the city more resilient in the face of global warming.” (https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/406-19/city-doubles-size-largest-green-infrastructure-program-nation-making-nyc-more-resilient-to) More than 9,000 curbside rain gardens are under construction in New York City! This will help prevent flooding when it rains in addition to reducing the Combined Sewer Overflows that often flow into local NYC waterways in upwards numbers of 500 million gallons per year. This reduced overflow will help protect and improve the health of the local tributaries and that of NY Harbor.
This is a wonderful idea to help bring green spaces to New York City since more than 70% of the city is paved with impervious surfaces. Often water gets absorbed into the ground and dispersed. But this cannot happen very well if the surfaces are paved. This means that impervious surfaces and massive amounts of water tend to create problems with flooding since the water has very few places to go. (Although it would be fun to race popsicle-stick boats down the full gutters along the street, but it becomes a bit more dangerous when the water goes past our ankles!) “More than 70 percent of New York City’s land mass is covered by an impervious surface… Curbside rain gardens help to soften the city’s landscape and allow the stormwater to be naturally absorbed into the ground, therefore reducing flooding that can impact roadways, homes and businesses.” (https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/406-19/city-doubles-size-largest-green-infrastructure-program-nation-making-nyc-more-resilient-to)
There is an additional benefit to these curbside rain gardens. The areas where these gardens are being created have a smaller tree count and often a higher reported rate of young people with asthma. “The increased tree canopy and vegetation created through the addition of the rain gardens will help to improve air quality, provide shade during hot summer months, and beautify the neighborhoods.” (https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/406-19/city-doubles-size-largest-green-infrastructure-program-nation-making-nyc-more-resilient-to) This is fantastic! But we still have one question that is lingering in our minds… What is a ‘curbside rain garden?’
What is a Curbside Rain Garden?
Curbside Rain Gardens are built along the street in city sidewalks to prevent the loss of street parking. Think a planter box set into the ground, only there is no bottom to the box per-say. The curbside rain gardens in New York City will entail a 5 foot deep hole into the ground. This hole is filled with alternating layers of engineered soil and stones. These layers of stones and soil will contain void spaces that will allow storage of stormwater and the subsequent natural drainage of that water. There are curb cuts to allow for water to flow into the garden to naturally water the plants. These curbside gardens are “…engineered in a way that will allow them to manage up to 2,500 gallons each during a storm… [and] designed so that all the stormwater is absorbed in less than 48 hours.” (https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/406-19/city-doubles-size-largest-green-infrastructure-program-nation-making-nyc-more-resilient-to) The addition of well chosen plants and foliage will assist the drainage and add air purifying beauty to the community!
Green Vertical Gardens are a growing trend for cities around the world.
Curbside Rain Gardens are just one way that cities are embracing the use of greenery in their city planning. Another trend that seems to be sprouting up around the world is vertical gardens. A vertical garden is where the plants and flowers are growing in a planter on the wall that often spanse most if not the whole wall space. Engineers and architects have been using this concept to create beautiful and lush cities and neighborhoods.
Most consider the Italian architect Stfano Boeri to be one of the fathers of green high-rises. In 2014 the Bosco Verticale in Milan, Italy won the International Highrise Award. And he is currently working on a “Forest City” in Liuzhou, China near the banks of the Liuyang River. Upon completion in 2020 this 175-hectare city with 300,000 residents will have homes, shops, offices, etc. that echo the hillsides near it to be a lush and green thriving city. “At the same time, this green metropolis will be home to at least 40,000 trees, shrubs, flowers, and hundreds of different plant species, soon becoming a vibrant, wild oasis for insects, bees, and birds.” (https://www.smart-magazine.com/vertical-gardens/) With the prevalent greenery in the city, air quality will increase and the overall noise of the city will be reduced.
Other ways we see vertical gardens is in Mexico City, USA. In Mexico City there are vertical gardens in the forms of pillars along the highways. These “…gardens are an innovative way of beautifying urban spaces, and absorbing CO2, heat, and city noise.” (https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/city-is-converting-highway-pillars-into-vertical-gardens-to-clean-the-air/) The garden’s irrigation system is self-sufficient by collecting rainwater, ensuring that the plants are well maintained. Additionally, the plants that grow on the pillars are chosen for their urban benefit of having low water consumption and high resilience. This process and selection is similar to those in other regions and cities. What is unique in the case of Mexico City is that the materials that make up the planters for the vertical gardens are made entirely out of recycled plastics. This makes this vertical garden sustainable and green in more than one way!
CLICK HERE to check out the short video on Mexico City’s vertical gardens!
We at UCA are happy to see these green trends sprouting up around the world! Whether you are gardening in your backyard or driving down the street, having plants around helps reduce stress, anxiety and promotes productivity. All of these are good things to help us become more successful people that can help fill the world with more caring.
If you would like to read more blogs, Unified Caring Association has more blogs like ‘R’ is for Reforestation, A UCA Member’s Personal Well-Being Journey, and Starting Steps to Self-Care. Or if you would like a dose of caring and cheer in your day? Follow us on Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram!
So much of our world is filled with the hustle and bustle of work and socialization. Many of us live in cities, where in place of lush trees with dancing leaves we see gleaming towers reach into the sky. Cites often have only small pockets of greenery. These often come in the forms of a park or school yard, small trees dotting the streets, or even the occasional community garden. Our bodies and minds crave nature and greenery. We see this craving through the effects of nature on our health. Exposure to nature throughout our days helps our minds and bodies de-stress, thus making us more grounded.
How is being in nature more healthy?
For starters being outdoors usually is coupled with physical activity. Playing sports on a field, horseback riding on a trail, or hiking are all activities that are often performed outside where we see a mixture of plants and trees. Most of the time we hear that physical activity is excellent for your health. For example, “…a 160-pound adult burns between 430 and 440 calories per hour of hiking. Contrast that with 550 calories burned per hour for someone who weighs 200 pounds, and you can see that the more you weigh, the more calories you’ll ultimately burn.” (Google, Jul 23, 2018) The good exercise that comes from the physical activity is coupled with another interesting effect of nature on our well-being. We also see healing in the brain as well. “Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume — the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory — in women over the age of 70.” (2) Outdoor exercises like hiking not only prevents memory loss but improves the mind where memory loss has occurred. Researchers also discovered that it can reduce mental fatigue, boost self esteem, as well as release endorphins. Endorphins trigger positive feelings and help us feel less stressed. An example is what is often referred to as a ‘runner’s high’ or ‘hiker’s high.’ This is the feeling we feel that follows a run, hike or other workout that’s often described as euphoric. This feeling is accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
The effects of nature and our emotional health…
Simply put when we interact with, see images or hear sounds from nature we feel less stressed and become more grounded. This creates a variety of positive outcomes, one of which is stress reduction. ’Nature’ experienced in any form including wilderness backpacking, gardening, viewing images of nature, restoring ecosystems, and simply having greenery outside your home has been linked to superior attention, effectiveness and outcomes of decisions. An article published by Sage Articles titled Healthy Workplaces: The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health, the authors found that connecting with nature was beneficial even in an office setting. “Adding indoor plants, opening blinds or going outside for a work break instead of to the break room, for example, are straightforward ways to increase healthy exposures… to combat stress and promote health.” (5) This is why we see plants (real or fake) in offices, hospital rooms, restaurants, etc.
The form of interaction with nature matters too. “The most direct nature contact—outdoor nature contact—had the strongest association with stress reduction and health.” (5) The more employees had exposure to nature at work (i.e. office plants, pictures, and or sounds on nature) the less stress symptoms they exhibited. Whereas the most direct form of contact with nature, like taking a break or lunch in the park, resulted in the most improvement in emotional fortitude.
When we mention mental fortitude, de-stressing or grounding we mean that the mind actually stops negative and or obsessive thoughts and opens up bandwidth for creative problem solving. “A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin…To conduct this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.” (2) In the article titled Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings, Ruth Ann Atchley, David L. Strayer, and Paul Atchley agree with this statement: “One suggestion is that natural environments, like the environment that we evolved in, are associated with exposure to stimuli that elicit a kind of gentle, soft fascination, and are both emotionally positive and low-arousing. It is also worth noting that with exposure to nature in decline, there is a reciprocal increase in the adoption of, use, and dependency upon technology. Thus, the effects observed here could represent either removal of the costs associated with over-connection or a benefit associated with a return to a more positive/low-arousing restorative environment.” (1)
Remember the opening imagery we talked about at the beginning of this blog? Tall buildings versus trees is different according to our brain chemistry. This makes sense since most of human existence has been in a more rural setting. So our brains recognise nature and greenery as familiar and thus is calming to our minds and bodies. The introduction of urban scenery is new. Therefore this is foreign to our ‘lizard brains,’ which causes a boost in our stress hormones like adrenaline. An article by Ian Johnston titled, Human brain hard-wired for rural tranquillity. This study of brain activity shows the struggle to process complex urban landscapes. The article talks about this mental process. “The study, which used an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity, adds to a growing body of evidence that natural environments are good for humans, affecting mental and physical health and even levels of aggression.” (3) While studying these MRI images it can be seen that areas of the brain where we see calm, meditative states lite up when subjects see pictures of rural settings. The inverse happens when images of urban environments are shown to the people, which “…resulted [sic.] in a significant delay in reaction, before a part of the brain involved in processing visual complexity swung into action as the viewer tried to work out what they were seeing.” (3) With the delay in recognition and increase in activity to resolve the dissonance we can deduce that the stress was not reduced in these people. But let’s turn back to the matter at hand. Seeing and interacting with nature is calming, healthy, and allows for the mind to be more productive.
A calm minds makes for a more productive mind…
Let’s take hiking as an example of connecting and being immersed in nature. While hiking, we usually don’t focus on daily tasks, future work meetings, or are fully conscious of our thoughts. This can be a form of moving meditation. This meditation allows for your mind to recover and de-stress while your body is getting a good workout as well as pumping the ‘feel good’ hormones through your system. As in other blogs we have posted, like Meditation: A Tool for Self-Care, meditation is a great tool for self-care. This tool allows for the mind to create space to solve problems creatively and with less effort. Specifically doing physical activities like hiking while disconnected from technology boosts our ability for creative problem solving. “A study conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that …participants in this study [who] went backpacking through nature for about 4 days, during which time they were not allowed to use any technology whatsoever… preformed better at tasks that require creative thinking and complex problem solving…by 50% for those who took part in this tech-free hiking excursion.” (2) These results could be due to the fact that most people find technology and urban noise disruptive. The beeps of our tech-savvy lives constantly demand our attention. This prevents us from focusing and can be taxing to our cognitive functions. How many times do we reach for our phones when they beep for whatever messages have arrived? This noise breaks our attention, which is already taxed as it is.
Improving attention through connecting with nature.
A prime example of reduced attention can be seen in the epidemic of diagnoses of ADHD in children. “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioral disorder of childhood. It manifests as an unusually high and chronic level of inattention, impulsivity/hyperactivity, or both, and it may affect more than 2 million school-aged children.” (4) But there is good news we would like to share with you! When it comes to grounding yourself and your kids in nature, nature helps calm the mind and allow for better focus and attention. Sara Burrows writes in her article, Study: Kids Who Grow Up Surrounded By Nature Become Happier Adults, “Children who grew up with the lowest levels of residential “green space” had up to 55% higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder…The results were also “dosage dependent” — the more of one’s childhood spent close to greenery, the lower the risk of mental health problems.” (6) An article published by Collective Evolution echoes this when they write about how the outdoors, specifically hiking can improve ADHD in kids. “A study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” reduces symptoms significantly. The results of this study suggest nature exposure can benefit anyone who has a difficult time paying attention and/or exhibits impulsive behavior.” (2)
The article by Frances E. Kuo, PhD and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, reports the results of a study exploring a possible new treatment for ADHD. The findings suggest that common weekend and after-school outdoor activities in relatively natural environments may be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. “Indeed, the symptoms of ADHD and “attention fatigue” so closely mirror each other that the Attention Deficit Disorders Evaluation Scale has been used as a measure of attention fatigue. However, unlike ADHD, attention fatigue is proposed to be a temporary condition; when the deliberate attention mechanism has an opportunity to rest, fatigue dissipates and behavior and performance improve.” (4) We can attribute the improvement and recovery from the attention/mind fatigue to the amount of time spent in nature because the mind is engaged more effortlessly. This also “…may in part reflect a systematic restorative effect on directed attention.” (4) When researchers observe the brain in non-ADHD populations, the right prefrontal cortex is where we see both attention fatigue. This is also where the capacity to deliberately direct attention exists. Multiple studies have provided evidence of a right frontal–cortical locus of attention control, and/or that the right prefrontal cortex is subject to fatigue after sustained demands on directed attention. “Correspondingly, the right prefrontal cortex has been implicated in ADHD. The right prefrontal cortex has been found to be smaller and less active among children with ADHD than among same-aged peers, and severity of ADHD symptoms has been shown to be proportional to the degree of asymmetry between left and right prefrontal cortex regional cerebral blood flow.” (4) Here we can see that the two issues, ADHD and attention fatigue may lie in the same underlying mechanism.
Studies focusing on kids professionally diagnosed with ADHD ages 7 to 12 years to date have examined the impact of exposure to nature. In one study, parents rated leisure activities as to whether their child’s symptoms were better, worse, or no change after engaging in outdoor activities, as well as “…the general severity of their child’s symptoms and provided information on the “greenness” of the child’s typical play settings.” (4) Results from this study indicate that ADHD symptoms were less or better than usual after being outdoors. Moreover, these after-effects from green/outdoor activities were in direct proportion with the form of nature. (i.e. the greener and closer to nature, the better.) This seems to be in line results in regards to grounding and de-stressing in adults after interacting with nature. The correlation between this data precludes a strong connection between the role of nature and reducing attention deficit symptoms.
Overall, grounding while in nature is good for everyone!
We can see how good it is to surround ourselves and interacting with nature on a daily basis. We improve not only physical health, but mental and emotional health as well as our ability to focus and solve problems creatively. It is also good to know that the form and degree of closeness to nature that helps amplify these benefits. If we set more time aside to care for plants, eating lunch in the park, or go on hikes we will see increases to our health.
If you would like to read more blogs, Unified Caring Association has more blogs like ‘R’ is for Reforestation, A UCA Member’s Personal Well-Being Journey, and Starting Steps to Self-Care. Or if you would like a dose of caring and cheer in your day? Follow us on Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram!
- Atchley, R. A., Strayer, D. L., & Atchley, P. (2012, December 12). Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0051474
- C. E. (2017, February 11). Doctors Explain How Hiking Can Actually Change Our Brains. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://wisemindhealthybody.com/collective-evolution/doctors-explain-hiking-can-actually-change-brains/?fbclid=IwAR2kpdtR-qECT8-fxRkY8wdB5N8QM6qZ-EGZ99FeSzZp2zaV7agPLI-lc5s
- I. J. (2013, December 11). Human brain hard-wired for rural tranquillity. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/human-brain-hard-wired-for-rural-tranquillity-8996368.html?fbclid=IwAR3DBJ-Zo1e6e2wRFTGBhN01XoH9OyTVWyx0V6_Pzf_9UzjqPrppXiAm1Fg
- Kuo, F. E., & Taylor, A. F. (2004, September). A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Evidence from a national study. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448497/
- Largo-Wight, E., Chen, W. W., & Weiler, R. (2011, May 1). Healthy Workplaces: The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health – Erin Largo-Wight, W. William Chen, Virginia Dodd, Robert Weiler, 2011. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/00333549111260S116
- S. B. (2019, March 22). Study: Kids Who Grow Up Surrounded By Nature Become Happier Adults. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://returntonow.net/2019/03/22/study-kids-who-grow-up-surrounded-by-nature-become-happier-adults/?fbclid=IwAR2aJAtu1JXpbxe9miYzTeG6-IYpeAeJgYiFMTaviCgaYp5PVDepFAvfXok