Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

Let Nature Calm You—Photos Work, Too!

In your office, and when you travel, make time for nature.

You don't have to go wilderness trekking to make nature more a part of your life.  

Green spaces are calming, creating what psychology researchers call “soft fascination,” in which you're engaged but not taxing yourself the way you do when you navigate city streets or drive.

Try putting beautiful nature scenes on your screen saver, especially if they change, so they catch your eye with a new image.

When volunteers wear electrodes in a lab and look at photos of natural or urban scenes, their brain waves are much calmer when they look at the greenery.

Even better if you can live near trees and gardens. Research shows that people who live amid concrete have more cortisol, a stress hormone, in their saliva than those who live near trees and parks. Children with attention deficits tend to concentrate more after walking through parks.

Next time you go on a trip to a major city, consider taking a break from restaurants, museum-going and other city pleasures with visits to great gardens and parks. In New York City, for example, the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Brooklyn are among the most beautiful in the world. In the New York City area, you can also visit Wave Hill, Kykuit, Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey and a Chinese "park" made of white stone on Staten Island.

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Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Wilmington, and Grand Rapids all have stunning gardens within easy travel or right in town.

You may actually find that you come home refreshed rather than exhausted by your trip.

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Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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