Sober Minds  Short Documentary Trailer from Zimmerhands Films on Vimeo.
Sober Minds is an uplifting autobiographical documentary that showcases the beauty of urban wildlife through breathtaking photography and powerful anecdotes.
OFFICIAL SELECTIONS 2017
Flickers Rhode Island International Film Festival US (World Premiere)
Fingal Film & Arts Festival IRE (Irish Premiere)
DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival US.
This trailer looks really interesting – even the trailer powerfully depicts the power of nature connection and suggests that nature can be a source of connection that more mainstream education (for instance) misses out on
How Forest Bathing Keeps Us Well — Finding Nature
There’s been a flurry of attention on forest bathing recently. Originating in Japan, it is the practice of taking a trip into the forest for well-being benefits. Last year we completed a meta-analysis of 11 Japanese research studies into forest bathing, it was published open access in Evolutionary Psychological Science. The paper considered the results in the context of a ‘3 Circles’ model of emotional regulation that helps reveal why immersing oneself in the woods is good for health.
A colleague at Derby, Prof Paul Gilbert OBE, has shown that that both our evolution, and research evidence, can be represented by three dimensions of our emotion regulation system. A simple way to do this is to represent these systems with 3 circles – handily represented here (in original blog post – Ed.) by a falcon, ash tree and wild boar warning! We can experience threat (the boar), drive (the falcon) and contentment (the tree). So, in more detail:
- Drive – positive feelings required to seek out resources, and nowadays achieve success at work or in leisure. It’s about a wanting (that can bring joy and pleasure) as we pursue things (as a falcon does).
- Contentment has an affiliative focus bringing different positive feelings, for example safety, soothing, affection, kindness and a positive calm with the way things are (represented by the ash tree).
- Anxiety – feelings and alerts generated by the threat and self-protection system. Located in the fast-acting amygdala this system can be both activating and inhibiting (represented by the wild boar warning).
Each dimension brings different feelings (such as anxiety, joy, and calm), motivations (avoid, pursue and rest) – releasing various hormones in the body. For wellbeing we need a balance between the three dimensions – happiness and satisfaction comes through balancing threat, drive and contentment. For example, when our threat response is overactive, an unbalance caused by being constantly driven for example, our positive emotions are reduced and we can become anxious or depressed.
Returning to the forest bathing research, we focussed on those studies that measured heart-rate variability – an indicator of activity in the branches of the nervous system that controls the heart. Although these studies found differences in the responses to urban and forest environments they didn’t consider them in the context of emotional regulation – how nature links to emotion, physiology and well-being. Nor did they have compelling explanations for some variety in the results.
The results of the analysis supported the story told by the 3 Circles model. Finding that being in the woods was calming – activating the parasympathetic nervous system associated with contentment. Whereas the urban control environment they used stimulated the sympathetic nervous system associated with drive and threat.
As ever the story is a little more complex. Some people weren’t soothed by the woodland, others were stimulated by it. Again, the 3 circles can help explain this. Some people could experience threat in the woodland, feeling anxious about what lies in the undergrowth – is that a boar rustling? This would cause a spike in sympathetic nervous system activity. Those more in tune with nature could feel joy (rather than calm) at being asked to spend time in the woods – at any time an exciting falcon may fly past! Such joy would also raise activity in the sympathetic nervous system.
Some prior posts here on forest bathing:
A walk in the woods – the rise of “forest bathing”
Deer ears – more on forest bathing
More thoughts on forest bathing
With his recent elevation to Taoiseach, something Leo Varadkar (who was supposed to work with me when I did a locum in Tallaght in May 2007… but he was occupied with some election or other) said in the late 1990s got a fair bit of coverage. This was to the effect that as a doctor you can help a few people, but as Minister for Health you can help millions. While at first glance this seems like a truism, it has for some reason got under my skin. There are various reasons for this, not all of which I will get into. Perhaps I am jealous of a road not travelled! (I am pretty confident I am not)
In a way it sums up a particular seduction – the seduction of the World of Policy. Get interested in any field – from the natural world to technology to medicine indeed – and sooner or later the siren song of policy will be heard. Wouldn’t it be great to Make A Difference not just on the piecemeal, day-to-day way, but on a grander scale? Increasingly I think not. Clearly someone needs to formulate policy and to think about things on a broad scale – but they should do so without illusions and with a certain humility. People have a habit of behaving in a way that the enlightened policy makers don’t foresee. The circuit of conferences and “networking” can become an echo chamber of self congratulation. Doing good, perhaps, is best done on a smaller scale.
These thoughts are occasioned by reading about the Salzburg Statement. This is something I heartily approve of – a call for action to ensure all children enjoy the right to play in a nature rich space within ten minutes of their home. The statement is made up of eight key actions:
Eight actions to transform cities for children
Ensure children of all ages, backgrounds, income, and abilities have equitable access to nature and play regularly and in meaningful ways to promote good health and wellbeing.
Embed nature in everyday places used by children, such as schools, backyards, parks, playgrounds and city streets, to make the city into a natural outdoor classroom.
Involve children in designing and planning natural spaces for recreation, education, inspiration and health, to give them ownership and pride in their local communities, schools and parks
Build curiosity, wonder, and care for nature in children (for example by greening school grounds and involving children with community gardens).
Protect natural features across cityscapes and create an equitably distributed network of accessible green and nature-rich spaces that all generations can reach on foot.
Connect cities with the broader ecosystems in which they are embedded, creating corridors for people, plants and animals to move safely across the city and into its surroundings.
Establish more urban conservation areas to increase access to nature and connect cities to the broader protected area network.
Work together through cross sectoral and multi-level partnerships to build an inclusive culture of health in cities.
There’s nothing there I would disagree with, though as with all these kind of interventions I would like more robust dissection of what, say, Item 3 would mean in practice.
I am always a little wary of dressing up worthy activity in the mantle of Health. What Resting a case for nature on the vagaries of purported health benefits can be a dangerous and debunkable game – especially with the media. This visual handily shows how media can seize on single studies to generate headlines:
One can easily imagine a Katie Hopkins-ish journalist seizing on the inevitable ambiguities of research to “debunk” the claims for health benefits of nature.
I should state very clearly I have no reason to think that the Salzburg Statement is a wonderful initiative I look forward to hearing more of. But I am a little wary of the siren call of the World of Policy.