Avoiding Rumination

BrainAs defined by psychologists, rumination is the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.  Rumination is similar to worry except rumination focuses on bad feelings and experiences from the past, whereas worry is concerned with potential bad events in the future.  Both rumination and worry are associated with anxiety and other negative emotional states.

In some circles rumination (or brooding) and worry are combined as “stinkin’ thinkin’.”  This affliction is often associated with depression and can lead to lack of action and stagnation in one’s life as well as a general loss of joy.  A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that experiencing nature not only helps resolve the issue of rumination, but the change can see seen in a brain scan.

Stanford University researchers had 38 men and women fill out questionnaires about their tendency to ruminate. Next the study participants had their brains scanned to determine the activity in their  subgenual prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with rumination.  Half of the study participants then went on a 90 minute walk in a natural setting and half went on a 90 minute walk in an urban setting.

Not only did the nature walkers report less ruminating during their walk, a follow-up brain scan showed less activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex.  No such improvement was seen in the urban walkers.  The researchers said: “This study reveals a pathway by which nature experience may improve mental wellbeing, and suggests that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.”

Many other studies, some of which I have discussed in this blog, have shown the positive mental aspects of spending time in natural surrounding.  This study takes the research a step further by showing how brain function changes with nature activity in a way that helps resolve one precursor for depression.

The Bottom Line

If you feel overwhelmed and your brain is working overtime and getting nowhere,  it’s time to find a quiet natural place and take a walk.  This study found significant improvements after 90 minutes of walking, so give it a try – there is no downside.

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