Nothing soothes my soul like being around water. Especially on a beautiful day like yesterday. Believe it or not, for an urban location, the Chicago area has some pretty decent beaches. There's one only a 15-minute drive away from us so I've been going out there for a walk in the morning or early evening. It was just what I needed yesterday to regroup after a busy weekend and another busy week coming up.
Such a beautiful day - we had the beach all to ourselves.
Spending time out in nature and away from people (and computers) is extremely relaxing and for many of us it improves our well being in all sorts of ways. But sometimes I forget that.
There's a theory called Attention Restoration Theory (ART!) that explains why the human mind needs nature. Research points out two types of attention that the brain uses: directed and involuntary. We make use of directed attention when we're extremely focused or working on a computer, for example. This is often draining and demanding if you need to (or choose to) spend hours at it. Focused attention on our phones, tablets or laptops for long periods of time literally drains our brains. And we know this, right?
The best way to recharge yourself and also improve cognitive function is through involuntary attention where you can switch off that directed attention for a bit. Our brains perform differently when we spend time in natural settings, simply watching clouds pass in the sky or reflecting upon the sound of crunching leaves or running water over rocks, all effortless. When we do this, our brain's attention automatically changes to involuntary, allowing us to "decompress" in a sort of meditative way.
Studies also show that water is the environment we respond to best in terms of mood improvement and feelings of calmness. For years I knew this instinctively but could never explain it.
We're not lucky enough to live near the ocean or mountains or even in a peaceful country setting but I'll take what I can get. Going to the beach and listening to the water was still so wonderfully restorative I could close my eyes and pretend it was the ocean. Good enough sometimes. Good enough.