Dear Readers,

Nature has a calming effect on us.

Studies show people who take walks in nature, as opposed to urban settings, were less depressed and had better memory skills. City dwellers have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders than those in rural areas.

One study, traced patients recovering from routine surgery in identical rooms, but some were facing a brick wall and others were facing trees. Consistently, the patients facing the trees recovered earlier and required less pain medication.

Why does nature restore us and help us regain our emotional equanimity?

Psychologists attribute it to attention restoration theory, ART, which suggests that urban environments force us to use directed, top-down attention to concentrate on specific tasks. Since we can only focus for so long, directed attention gets depleted quickly. Forests, streams and ocean, on the other hand, are attention-grabbing but demand very little from us and replenish our exhausted mental resources by allowing us to think as much or as little as we'd like.

But perhaps there is a subtler, more spiritual reason as well.

Recently after a hard day, I went to a picturesque stream. Surrounded by huge trees and enveloped by water, I felt my tension evaporating. Snapping a picture of the gorgeous scenery, I posted it with the simple caption, “destressing.” When my phone’s spell-check tried to change “destressing” to “distressing”, the similarity between these words hit me.

Can we turn “distress” into “destress”, by simply changing our perspective from “i” to “e”?

When I am surrounded by work, to-do lists, and stressful situations, my focus is on I. I worry about all that I need to do, I sulk over the people who insulted me, and I simmer over the situations that anger me.

But surrounded by nature, my focus was on eeverything around me. The huge trees that swayed with the wind, the slow motion of the river, the wild geese flying overhead and the fish swimming below, the hiking path hewn from earth that had been walked on by others, each with their own life story. Each of these seemed to be whispering about the existence of a Creator who designed us all. The I of my existence, the I of my emotions, the I of my careful plan that hasn’t materialized takes a backseat to everything around me.

In nature, I was almost forced to take greater notice of a world far bigger than my own little one. I couldn’t help but see a world designed by a Designer who continues to watch over each of His creations—and who can certainly calm my own worries and restore my equanimity.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW