Life Inspired by Nature
“A few people realize that nature created seasons for a transformational living. Even if we have lost the wisdom, we are still impacted by that change.” ~ Maria Lehtman
Living with anxiety and depression are some of the greatest challenges in our modern, digitalized world. We suffer from energy fluctuations without ever realizing why they occur and what we should do about them.
Over 12 years ago when I started photographing and creating inspirational artwork related to seasons, my goal was to offer visual means to improve the state of mind through nature.
I did not realize then just how critical it was to observe cycles of seasons and their impact on our health. Individuals who understand the connection between the natural cycle, energy fluctuations, and personal endurance, are the ones who truly thrive.
In 2016 Carolyn Gregoire wrote an interesting article in HuffPost: “How Different Seasons Affect The Way Your Brain Works.” She quotes as an example Dr. Gilles Vandewalle, a neuroscientist at the University of Liege: “Mood and immunity are well known to change with seasons in humans, and there are indications that several brain aspects could also be seasonal.”
“Mood and immunity are well known to change with seasons in humans and there are indications that several brain aspects could also be seasonal.” ~ Dr. Gilles Vandewalle
Understanding seasonal anxiety.
When I read posts and comments on social media about the seasonal impact at working places, many people reported observing peaks of behavioral changes before e.g. summer and winter solstice. These events represent a significant shift when nature literally, prepares for a new phase. We feel that in our bodies as an impact to our immune system and metabolism.
We might feel stressed, anxious, tired and catch a cold before Christmas time. The symptoms are often associated with year-end stress, closing down the books for the annual year, the pressure of Christmas preparations, a reaction to the lack of sunlight (specifically in the Northern Hemisphere).
Although there is an increasing amount of sun light during spring time people may still suffer from depression and decreased motivation at their workplaces. Some have noted a lower energy cycle before the summer solstice.
A study conducted by Nature Communications analyzed blood and tissue samples from more than 16’000 people around the world. The research team discovered that out of ca. 22’000 genes scrutinized during the research nearly quarter showed clear signs of seasonal variation. The results varied by country but indicated significant inflammation changes from one month to another.
What can we do to prepare ourselves for the seasonal impact?
1. Let nature heal you in all seasons. Avoid nature deprivation.
According to studies, up to 95% of people feel their mood improves when they are spending time outside. While I adore spring time and summer, I feel more grounded and empowered spending time outside also during the fall and winter. Being close to nature, at least, 30 minutes a day will decrease anxiety, depression and may also lower sensations of pain.
A very interesting article by Florence Williams in The National Geographic ‘This Is Your Brain on Nature’ provides good insight how our brain like any other muscle needs downtime outdoors. As our bodies restore our mental performance improves as well.
- Seasonal hobbies. If you have a dog, you are most likely in the lucky position to get regular outdoors exercise no matter the weather or season. If you miss this friendly and furry companion in your life, try to find another incentive. I took up mobile photography to capture beautiful details. Focusing through the lens helps me to forget a gusty winter wind. I always dress for the weather and comfort. Snowboarding was a useful hobby to help to find the right clothing.
“Our brains – aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too.” ~ David Strayer
2. Regulate screen time. Be the offline hero.
Journal of the American College of Cardiology conducted clinical research examining the independent relationship of television viewing or other screen-time with the cause of mortality and cardiovascular disease (CVD) events. One critical risk observed was sitting time. Human beings do not endure without physical action. However, the study also noted a higher risk of death independent of physical activity!
- Reduce applications that distract you. While digitalization is the way to go – there is always a limit to how much your mind and body can absorb. I had a several social media apps on my mobile and realized I kept checking updates even when I woke up during the night. I retained the daily communication apps but removed the non-critical ones. I now login via the Internet if I want or need to check or share updates. I went back to listening meditation videos on YouTube and started falling asleep much quicker. During day time I was able to improve listening to other people without having to glance at my mobile every so often.
3. Keep a natural sleep cycle. “Blue light has a dark side.”
Reducing the exposure to blue light especially two hours before going to sleep will improve your natural circadian rhythm. I have met with people who discovered that they suffered from insomnia due to the exposure to bright energy-efficient light bulbs.
The exposure to light during the darker winter seasons when we need to pick up that extra boost continues to be important. However, due to the exposure from the screens, additional bright light may not always be a suitable choice. Preserving a good quality of sleep becomes a much more critical seasonal factor.
- Dim the evening lights. According to Harvard Health Letter exposure to blue light, e.g. in our mobiles, tablets and other screens suppresses melatonin, our natural sleep hormone. The study recommends e.g. using dim red lights for night lights due to its lower impact level to the circadian rhythm.
4. Find the right seasonal nutrition.
You may have heard about intuitive eating. Authority Nutrition has some interesting posts on this topic if you want to dive into it. I have observed that children may well have an inherent intuitive skill even if they are not aware of it. One day strawberries are a hit, next day it will be watermelon, and strawberries get frowned upon.
When I read more about the topic, I realized that intuitive eating was closely related to what I had observed as seasonal cravings. As an example, during winter time I need to get the strongest, saltiest licorice possible. We excel in the salty & sweet candy category in Finland. You will certainly be tested in your endurance of ‘salmiakki’ if you ever come by.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TMC) has always focused on finding a balance and harmony between nutrition and nature. Even if you are not familiar with the Eastern approach, it is worthwhile to take a look at the wisdom accumulated since the ancient times. A post ‘The Dietary Advice in Each Season’ by Dang Yi, MD Ph.D., Professor in Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, gives some food for thought.
- Take note of your physical and emotional hunger. Your biological urge will let you know what you are missing. My craving for licorice indicates often a lack of minerals such as magnesium. Other symptoms may be more associated with emotional needs, i.e. looking for comfort food and also indicate a need for a specific nutrition. Reduced levels of vitamin D, B and C alone would have a great impact on our capacity to manage through the darker and colder seasons. Nutritional deficiencies are found to cause unexplained symptoms of mental disorder, depression, and anxiety.
- “What you cannot measure – you cannot improve.” Measuring vital levels of nutrients is just as critical as any other activity. Some of it can be expensive, but today’s technology also offers alternative analysis that can be indicative and cost-effective. One example would be the HTMA mineral analysis using hair tissue.
Typically the results are not a complete surprise. Our intuition is often two steps ahead of us. If you follow the actions of nature, you become more attuned to what your mind and body truly needs.
Every corny thing that’s said about living with nature – being in harmony with the earth, feeling the cycle of the seasons – happens to be true. ~ Susan Orlean
Note: Above techniques are not shared in order to replace any medical advice given to you by your physicians. Take heed of your own requirements, sensations, and feelings.
Nature Communications: Nature Communications
Natural Geographic: “This Is Your Brain on Nature”
Business Insider: 11 scientific reasons you should be spending more time outside
Wikipedia: Circadian rhythm
Harvard Health Letter: Blue light has a dark side
Wikipedia: Intuitive eating
Wikipedia: Salty liquorice
Authority Nutrition: A quick Guide to Intuitive Eating
Current Psychiatry: Vitamin deficiencies and mental health: How are they linked?
Bulletproof: 13 Reasons To Get Your Hair Mineral Analysis Tested
Ref. Weekly Photo-Challenge by Daily Post: Collage