According to a study published by Stanford University, contact with nature would be able to positively affect our brain (by modifying blood flow in the pre-frontal cortex), and especially as a prevention against depression. How to explain such a phenomenon?
Hervé Platel: The region of the anterior cingulate gyrus is the part of the brain targeted in the study.
It shows an overactivity in people who tend to “mental rumination”, a term that refers to the state of people who do not stop thinking, who have trouble letting go, to disconnect. That’s why going to a park, a green space, maybe a moment of calm. A moment of rest for our thought, our psyche and of course our brain.
Among the contexts that a priori modulate depression and anxiety states, we know for example that there is physical activity. Studies show that walking is a source of positive regulation. People who go walking, whether in town or in the wild, will benefit from neuro-regulation, and tend to be less stressed and less depressed.
Indeed, physical activity can lead to a reduction in brain activity in certain areas of the brain. But this does not mean that the state of mental rumination is linked to a too intense brain activity. It’s not so simple because in the brain, there are balancing effects.
There are places in the brain that can show an overactivity that is correlated with negative behaviors. But conversely, we will have regions of the brain that show a sub-activity, or even an abnormally low activity, and that is also correlated with a way of thinking that is negative.
How walking in nature changes the brain: are such effects sustainable? Is prolonged exposure necessary to produce observable effects?
One can think that it is the preservation of the activity, the fact of making it last, the training, which is nevertheless the most effective. That is to say, when we stop walking, physical exercises, meditation, we can have a resurgence of negative thoughts. So there is an interview to produce.
It’s like keeping your body in shape. It is obvious that for our mental state, the brain is the same thing. If we do not continue to maintain this state, to work on it, potentially the effects will not last.
It is a question of regulation. We break the mechanism of rumination by putting the brain in a mode of operation that will limit the negative effect. But that does not mean that one should not think about one’s worries, only one must be able to break the loop of anxiety that can lead us to think only of the negative.
Conversely, how does city life stress our brain?
Many ways. The fact of being in an environment where one is very solicited, in particular perceptively, the fact that there is noise around oneself. We must not caricature city life but it is certain that in cities, we will have a way of life, a rhythm, which forces us to achieve everything in a way perhaps more precipitous. We take less time.
Obviously city life is sensory very aggressive so very stimulating. The absence of a moment of calm tends to increase the level of stress. We are always caught by something that can monopolize our thinking. It is an environment in which it is perhaps less easy to come to rest, empty your head and be in the perception of sensations in a calm way.
Are other environments likely to positively affect our brain?
Anyone who focuses his thoughts on something else and prevents thoughts from being in a circle of rumination.
To take the example of the holidays, it is a moment that makes it possible to disconnect from the material contingencies of everyday life. This allows us to have other types of thoughts and to be more receptive to our sensory environment, but in a more contemplative way. We are more in the present moment and less to ruminate thoughts.
At some point, having a wandering thought that is never posed in bodily sensations promotes obsession, frustration, or anxiety. We know very well that we can have the same result with the practice of physical activity, listening to relaxing music or meditation.
Of course, these recommendations may seem simplistic and common sense, but if it was so easy for us to get to our daily worries, certainly France would not be one of the European countries where we consume the most antidepressants! Thus, it is sometimes useful to be helped temporarily to find the right technique and access again to a good mental and brain balance.