Stressed? This will tame your brain’s ‘caveman’ impulses
Sometimes, it seems like there’s no escape from stress.
No matter how organized your life is… how much wisdom you’ve gained… and how much you try to “accentuate the positive,” a lemon always manages to drop out of the sky.
And if you live anywhere but the countryside, that lemon might take the form of a traffic jam, parking ticket, or noisy neighbor!
In fact, those stresses of “civilization” can even affect your brain — because compared to country folks, those who live in cities large or small tend to have higher levels of activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that plays a role in your stress response.
Think of the amygdala as the tiny part of your brain that never evolved from when we were cavemen and cavewomen. It can cause a fight or flight response that would’ve come in handy if your prehistoric ancestor were running from a tiger.
But while MOST of our modern-day stresses don’t warrant that severe of a response, the tiny “caveman brain” inside our modern, evolved brains can’t recognize the difference.
Fortunately, according to a new study out of Germany, there’s a natural way to help your brain cope better with the aggravations of modern life: When life gives you lemons, head for the trees!
Based on MRI brain scans and cognitive test results, researchers found that those who lived in cities close to a forest had healthier brain structure AND function than city dwellers who didn’t.
Now, this wasn’t a controlled experiment — so it’s possible that the people in the study with healthier amygdalas simply CHOSE to live closer to nature.
And we don’t know how pollution might come into play here.
But since previous research has shown that the environment around you can literally shape the structure and function of your brain, it’s entirely plausible that access to the great outdoors has a direct impact on the stuff between your ears.
And since stress can contribute to so many health concerns — from high blood pressure to gut issues — anything that can calm your caveman brain down is a good thing.
Not surprisingly, previous studies have even shown that the more trees and birds a neighborhood has, the less likely its residents are to suffer from depression and anxiety!
At the same time, the new study found that a few trees planted in a parking lot can’t substitute for the peaceful silence of nature.
Now, if you don’t live close to a bona fide forest, “planting” yourself at a local park might be enough to do the trick. (Even in a concrete jungle like New York City, you can still find a quiet spot in Central Park!)
Really, ANY chance you have to get out from the shadows of buildings and into the sunshine can help — because the vitamin D you get from sun exposure can ease depression, especially in those who are deficient.