Author Archives: Eva Selhub

Spirituality—What’s the big deal?



The term “spirituality” has gotten a bad rap, I think, over the past decade. I rather think the whole idea of making “spirituality” good or bad is rather funny, giving that human beings are naturally spiritual.

Indeed, in the broader sense, spirituality simply refers to the profound sense that one is connected to something much larger than self. You can feel this way at any given moment—while praying, basking under some glorious rays of sunshine, or hitting a perfect shot while playing golf.

From a brain-science perspective, when one feels this larger sense of connection, peptides and neurostransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine are flying through the brain and body, creating a state of relaxation, a general sense of well-being, and a more open state of mind. In addition, stress hormones and stress systems that are normally over-activated when an individual feels threatened or disconnected are kept in check, therefore inhibiting the detrimental and harmful affects of stress and the associated bi-products.

spiritual feeling of a sunset

beautiful sunsets connect you with nature and the spiritual world

Since the beginning, humankind has used spirituality to cope—using imagination, their connection to nature and the spiritual world, to make meaning of a world that did not have science to explain anything yet. Physiologically, science is now discovering that this coping mechanism is indeed necessary for health and well-being.

One only has to gaze at a beautiful sunset, imagine a gazelle leaping through the air, or watch an eagle sore through the sky to feel the sense of being connected and part of something much larger and greater. When we get caught up in our every day lives, the computer screen or the smart phone, we lose this sense of largeness and connection. Rather, our minds close in on just us and the inanimate objects around us, which often do not always imply a deeper meaning or connection.

A great thing about nature is that it is non-denominational. You don’t have to believe in God, a higher power, divine influence or any other religious beliefs to get the benefit that more religiously minded individuals get. Nature, by its sheer vastness and beauty can elicit this feeling and mind/body physiology in anyone. Even better, once you feel connected to nature, you are also more likely to take care of it. Likewise, when you feel more connected to the larger world you exist in, you are more likely to have empathy for the people who surround you.

The Daoist believe that the human body mirrors the landscape of nature. There is an intricate balance between all parts of the body, all parts of nature and between humankind and nature. Each takes care of the other—or is supposed to. Destroying nature is akin to destroying the body. You don’t take care of nature, you don’t take care of yourself. You don’t take care of yourself, you don’t take care of nature. And then what do you have left? A smart phone is not going to keep the oxygen in the air for you to breathe.

Likewise, self care leads to environmental care. Loving the environment results in better care of oneself. Science confirms the Daoist belief when looking at the regulating systems in the body—via feedback loops and auto-regulatory processes that depend on hormones and neurotransmitters, every system of the body, molecules like oxygen and nitric oxyide and all of the senses—that pick up pleasantries vs. insults that turn on the stress response or turn it off. Like a pleasant aroma vs. a caustic smell. Nature has the same effect. When you see a flower bloom, your mind and body experience a similar reaction.

Think about it now—what do you feel?

Here are a few simple ways you can connect to your own spirituality muscle:
Gaze at something amazing—something that amazes you, that is, in nature. That state of awe will release oxytocin and other delicious neurotransmitters that give you the sense of a “high”.

You can also take a mindful walk in nature—this means not thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow, but being present and appreciative while walking in nature….admiring the colors of the leaves, the blueness of the sky, the smell of the air or the touch of the breeze. Intentionally usining all your senses to appreciate heightens the sense of connection.

Enjoy!

By: Dr Eva Selhub

Utilize Your Stress

At its best, stress motivates and initiates action, creativity, productivity and resilient health.

At its worst, stress intimidates, stagnates and annihilates all the above, and shuts off access to available knowledge, skills and resources that would be otherwise useful.

Finding balance is essential for your health

 

If you would rather:

• Maintain balance in the face of stress
• Find your flow and achieve resilience
• Shift into a positive physiological state of the mind and body
• Work with honesty and integrity
• Inspire as a leader

Use stress before it uses you!

When the mind perceives that you are in stress, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin (among others) are produced which begin turning off the systems that are not needed during time of fear and stress, when survival of the species is in danger. These include your digestive and reproductive systems, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, musculoskeletal and immune systems. In short, every system of your body is affected. When the problem is solved, the mind perceives that you are safe and out of danger, and the body’s systems revert back to your set point of balance, as the stress response shuts off.

In this type of scenario, the mind perceives stress as manageable, the stress response is short-lived and used to initiate and motivate the necessary actions or change.

Not the case when negative emotions, taking conflict personally, or ongoing worries are involved.

Think about it:
If you are being chased by a lion, it is not a good time to reproduce, forage for food, sleep, relax, socialize, think about doing your taxes, or think at all for that matter?

Your mind does not necessarily distinguish between real or imagined threats, physical, psychological or emotional stress. And if the stress is perceived as unmanageable, the stress system will continue to be active.

The economic collapse is just as much of a lion to your mind as your worries about your children, or anger that you are not being treated with respect. The more you worry, the more the stress system fires, and the result can be a shutting down of the mind and body to work efficiently, creatively and in your best interest. With fear, the human mind falls back onto habitual behavior and rigidity, losing adaptability and flexibility.

Your key is to keep the stress response in better control.

One way to control the stress response is to address the underlying belief that marks stress as unmanageable: Not being enough or having enough resources to handle uncertainty.

By shifting the belief of “being/having enough”, you shift the minds expectation from negative to positive, so that the stress response can be quieted, the body more calm and the mind clearer.

Redirect The Focus from negative emotion and expectancy to positive

The SHIELD® technique can enable you to shift you to make this shift. It is a mnemonic and a visualization.
1. Say to yourself “SHIELD”, and a SHIELD of white or golden light will immediately surround you (As if the sun shines down a warm golden light upon you). This is a SHIELD® of comfort and protection.
2. Then “S”: Stop, slow down, or slide to a halt
3. “H”: Honor what you are feeling or experiencing.
4. “I”: Inhale
5. “E”: and don’t forget to Exhale
• Breathe in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth
• You may choose to close your eyes (not while you are driving!) or keep them open
• Just pay attention to your breath as it enters and leaves.
• By focusing on your breath, you automatically remove your awareness from your negative thoughts, calming the stress response.
6. “L”: Listen: listen to your thoughts, feeling, and sensations. Ask yourself: In what way is this situation reminding me that I am not enough or do not have enough?
7. “D”: Decide: Decide to shift out of the stress response by using the antidote to your problem and repeat silently: “I am enough, I have enough. I have all that I need. Come what may, I have all that I need.”

It may not solve the problem or question at hand, but you might feel better, less emotional, more objective and more open to the possibilities of handling the stress.

By Eva Selhub

Your Body on Nature

“Yeah, yeah, Nature’s great. I know all about it,” a friend remarked to me, while perusing emails on their smart phone.

“Do you?” I asked, “Because I didn’t know all about it…..”

I didn’t realize how “great” Nature really is until I embarked on the project of co-authoring Your Brain on Nature (Wiley, 2012) with Naturopath, Dr. Alan Logan. Amazingly, while I was advocating nature walks and using nature in visual imagery to achieve better health outcomes, Dr. Logan was researching the research on the effects that advanced technology has had on our health, especially with regard to our use of technology over use of time in nature. Delving further, we discovered the myriad of studies pointing to the incredible health benefits of nature, especially on our brain.

So in this blog series, I hope to enrich you with information related to these findings (of course, just enough to entice you to read the book, because this blog will only offer you the tip of the iceberg), but more so, to open your eyes, minds and encourage you to improve your health by accessing the benefits of nature.

Did you know, that compared to 1980, we cram in an extra 4.4 hours per day of information consumption outside of work and that the human brain is wired for info-desire? This means, that seeking information feels good and stimulates brain reward pathways, just like seeking nurturing food does. However, the brain can easily be stressed by trying to distinguish information that serves us versus junk, so it seeks to find the good information more. Just like many of us often find ourselves seeking comfort food when we are feeling anxious or stressed.

The lure of instant screen-based information can be over-powering, just like the lure of French fries from your favorite fast food restaurant. The next thing you know, perusing the information highway on your smart phone or computer, displaces health-promoting activities – exercise, meaningful social interaction, contemplation, mindful eating and being outdoors. One study claimed that 16-year downtrend in national park visits could be explained by the increase in watching movies, playing video games, internet use, along with rising oil prices oil prices.

Indeed, it is not surprising that researches are finding that there is a strong correlation with more screen time and higher incidences of depression and anxiety, poor performance and attention deficit. In a number of studies scientists induce mental fatigue in healthy subjects via cognitively demanding tasks, and then half of the group view nature scenes, while the others view urban built scenes. Upon repeat cognitive testing, those who viewed nature scenes had improved accuracy in target detection, faster reaction time, and a higher number of correct responses to challenge and better memory recall. In research involving mentally fatigued adults, a walk (for a little less than an hour) in a vegetation-rich urban park (vs. city streets)
significantly improves mental performance. Similar findings have been reported in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Research shows that classroom, dormitory and cafeteria views to green vegetation are underappreciated factors in academic performance on standardized tests.

So in this day and age of the rising of such diagnoses as attention deficit disorder both in adults and children, as well as the aging population that needs to be concerned about keeping up cognitive functioning of their brain, it may behoove us to at least take a walk in the park, no?

Plants are good for your health

This is only one example of the sort of studies that are ongoing.

Simple acts such as keeping a plant in your office, sitting by a window, or having a scene of nature that you can gaze at every now and then, have also been found to be associated with better health.

What I would like you to do is conduct an experiment for yourself.

Spend more time in nature—garden, go for walks, stare out the window, buy some new plants and nurture them… Make an effort to do this at least for a few days and see if your energy level or mood improve. Conversely, though I am not advocating this, you can notice how you feel after a day or two of nature deprivation—like not leaving your house or office, staying glued to the computer, smartphone or TV. You can notice how you feel.  Then, if you are up to it, write me and let me know what happens.

By Eva Selhub

For now, I am putting on my boots and going to stomp around in the snow for a bit!

Some References:

Felsten G. Where to take a study break on the college campus: an attention restoration theory perspective. J Environ Psychol 2009, 29:160-9.

Misra S, Stokols D. Psychological and health outcomes of perceived information overload. Environ Behav 2012 In Press.

Pergams O, Zaradic P. Is love of nature in the US becoming love of electronic media? 16-year downtrend in national park visits explained by watching movies, playing video games, internet use, and oil prices. J Environ Manage 2006, 80:387-93.

Pergams O, Zaradic P. Evidence for a fundamental and pervasive shift away from nature-based recreation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008, 105(7):2295-300.

Tennessen C, Cimprich B. Views to nature: effects on attention. J Environ Psychol 1995, 15:77-85.

Van den Eijnden R, Meerkerk GJ, Vermulst AA, Spijkerman R, Engels RC. Online communication, compulsive internet use, and psychological well-being among adolescents: a longitudinal study. Dev Psychol 2008, 44:655-65.