Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on May 19, 2008
Here’s one for the pseudoscience file. Psychologists worldwide are increasingly buying in to the idea that a return to nature is the panacea for all of our human problems. Bogus? Well, I’m not a psychologist, but I know that there’s no single answer to our problems as modern humans.
I have worked with hundreds of at-risk teens in the woods and sat in countless meetings with their therapists. What I’ve found is that nature certainly has a place in rehabilitating people — especially teens — who have difficulties managing the crazy lifestyles we lead. What we shouldn’t be doing is diagnosing new diseases based on our lack of connection with nature and working forward with people from there. My favorite new diagnosis is “global warming anxiety”.
Sounds funny, doesn’t it? It’s not to those who suffer from it.
What’s happening, according to Emory University psychology professor Scott O. Lilienfeld, is that people’s concerns about issues like global warming are just one piece of the elephant. There is so much information coming at us so fast — and so much of it is paranoia media — that our minds can’t keep up. This media blitz and our lack of ability to take it all in causes anxiety, and when we become anxious we look for ways to escape.
What won’t necessarily help is for a therapist to encourage adults who have global warming anxiety to buy a solar water heater or energy efficient windows. Anxious people cannot buy their way out of anxiety — no matter what you see on television.
Getting back to nature and exercising are healthy escapes (called “defense mechanisms” in psychobabble), but there are other less-healthy options like video games, sex, and drugs. Any of these in moderation will certainly help decrease stress and reduce anxiety; the pitfall comes when we rely too much on one form of escape and don’t spend enough time in the here and now.
Does taking a walk in the woods help? Absolutely. Is the grass under a big tree better for meditation and thought than a seat in busy coffee shop? Certainly. Can the suggestions go too far? You bet. Some of my favorite out-there solutions are rubbing tree bark and sniffing the empty shells left behind by squirrels — or the topper, laying face down on a giant warm rock to get the feeling of a nurturing mother.
Global culture is fast-paced. Nature is not. We must find an appropriate balance between work and relaxation to live a fulfilling life and raise our children to do the same.
(via the New York Times)