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well-being

What To Do When Therapy Isn’t An Option

What To Do When Therapy Isn’t An Option

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It’s no surprise that we are big advocates of therapy here at Connecte. Therapy can help us manage stress and anxiety, improve our mood and well-being, and cope with life’s ups and downs. It can also be a powerful tool to help us meet our personal and professional goals and reach our potential. Above all, therapy provides a way to feel seen, heard, and understood.

That said, we’re also aware that therapy isn’t always a realistic option. It can take a financial toll, especially when money is tight and insurance coverage is limited. In the public sector, there are often long waiting lists. Therapy also involves a substantial commitment of our time and energy (contrary to expectations, therapy isn’t “just talking’ and it can be hard work!). And sometimes, we’re just not in a place where we’re ready to face past experiences or discuss the things that are weighing heavily on us.

There may come a point when you feel like you could benefit from taking matters into your own hands and taking ownership of your mental health and well-being. Whether you’ve been in therapy before, plan on trying it out for the first time, or are just looking for some strategies you can use to help you cope and maximize your potential, read on to learn how you can move forward when therapy isn’t an option with a few tips from some of the psychologists here at Connecte.

1. Develop a self-care routine

Self-care isn’t selfish, and it isn’t a passing trend or fad. At Connecte, we’re always striving to find ways to incorporate little acts of self-care into daily life and encourage our clients to do the same. It’s a great way to practice #lifetherapy. Coming up with a sustainable self-care routine can help us cope with distress and improve the overall quality of our lives.

One of my favorite ways to help clients come up with a personalized self-care plan is to brainstorm priorities and activities across different domains, including our physical health (e.g., walking outside, attending a yoga class, coming up with a bedtime routine, eating regular, nourishing meals), our emotional well-being (e.g., mindfulness, meditation, journaling), our need for human connection (e.g., seeing friends and family, appreciating small interactions with strangers), and our thirst for creativity (e.g., painting, drawing, reading, interior design). Maryann Joseph also highlights the importance of pursuing creativity: “Take your pain, take your feelings, and make something with them. Channel them into something creative: write, play music, do some wild, cathartic bedroom dancing, plant something, grow something, build something, repair something, make a fiery tomato sauce.”

Self-care ultimately allows us to learn about ourselves, lead a more fulfilling life, and take care of our basic needs and values. Finding ways to incorporate it into your routine can therefore give you a head start for therapy if or when you’re ready.  

2. Create your personal library

Self-help books and resources that guide us through specific therapeutic exercises or approaches can be really helpful. Like anything, this works best when we actually stick with it. If being consistent is a struggle, it can help to set aside a time each week to check in with yourself and catch up on some reading material or exercises. You can even check in with yourself at the same time each week, much like the way you would in therapy. Finding a therapist who can support and guide you through your own self-help exercises can also be extremely beneficial. Luckily, there are so many great resources available, both online and in print. Some of our favorites include Mind Over Mood and Self-Esteem. Danit Nitka also recommends Reinventing Your Life, which is a schema-therapy based read that is aimed at self-guided change. Online, AnxietyBC and the Centre for Clinical Interventions have many helpful handouts and worksheets for coping with anxiety and depression, building assertiveness, cultivating self-compassion, and targeting self-critical views of ourselves and bodies.  Looking for more? You can always find some of our other favorite resources here.

3. Turn to technology

There seems to be an app for everything these days. And while this can make it easier to incorporate things like relaxation and mindfulness into our routines, it also means putting in the time to find the right apps that will work for you. With the increasing evidence that mindful breathing and relaxation are helpful for treating depression, it really is worth it. Some of our favorites include breethe, Headspace, InsightTimer, and Simply Being. Expectful is another resource to guide you through struggles related to fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. There are also apps and online resources to help you make new friends and expand your support system, including Meetup, MeetMe, Bumble BFF and Peanut (for new mothers).

At the same time, it’s a careful balance. And sometimes it helps to remember to “disconnect to reconnect”. Making an active effort to check our phones, e-mails, and social media less often, or to unfollow accounts, blogs, or posts that may be triggering for a variety of reasons can do wonders for our mental state and our ability to focus on the things that truly fulfill us in the long run.

4. Attend a group

Group therapy can be a really helpful way to work through issues and, in many cases, is often recommended as either an adjunct to or starting point for individual therapy. Maeve O’Leary Barrett and Stéphanie Landry recommend looking into free support groups or workshops that are available through AMI-Quebec, REVIVRE, ANEB (for difficulties related to eating disorders), or the Mont Royal Cemetery (for grief counselling).

Lisa Linardatos also recommends taking part in an extracurricular group and making sure we set aside time for the kind of play that is typically only nurtured in childhood. Whether it’s participating in a team sport or even a bounce class, a creative arts or improv class, a public speaking workshop, or a book club, joining a group activity can be a helpful way to seek out meaningful social interactions, improve our energy and motivation, and build confidence while learning a new skill. Regardless of whether it’s group therapy or simply therapeutic, having an activity outside of the home and feeling socially connected can be so important for our sense of well-being.

5. Open up to close others

Speaking of feeling socially connected, spending time with loved ones, including friends, partners, and family members, is so essential for our mental health. Simcha Samuel says: “Consider sharing your feelings with those you trust. Notice if there are a couple of people in particular with whom you tend to feel especially accepted, understood or supported. Make sure to let them know how much their support means to you and what about their support in particular you have found especially helpful.”. If you’re wondering who to open up to, Jodie Richardson recommends watching this video on the difference between empathy and sympathy. She adds that speaking with a friend can also be a really powerful way to learn how to be a “wise, empathic friend to ourselves and our emotions”.

If you find yourself struggling to find new friends or maintain the friendships you already have, you can always learn more about my work on friendships here. And if calling a friend isn’t a possibility, there are phone lines that offer a listening ear, words of encouragement, or suggestions for social and community level resources.

6. Challenge your assumptions

Sometimes, our resistance to therapy has less to do with practical obstacles and more to do with personal barriers. It’s not uncommon to have biases about what therapy actually looks like or involves. This can be true regardless of whether we have past experiences with therapy.

  • For so many, the thought of entering therapy can feel like a lifelong commitment. In reality, the goal of most therapy experiences is to help you find ways to cope in your everyday life and to essentially become your own therapist. And while every person and experience is different, it’s absolutely possible to make progress in a limited number of sessions.
  • If the cost of therapy is prohibitive, it might help to know that some clinics offer sliding scales (often with an intern therapist) where the fee for each session is based on your financial situation. It’s also not uncommon for therapy to take place every 2 weeks as opposed to every week, especially as things progress.
  • Finally, if you’re concerned about not “clicking” with a therapist, know that it’s all about fit. Research actually suggests that the relationship between a client and therapist actually matters more than the type of therapy that’s practiced! It’s perfectly okay to find someone else with whom you are more at ease and comfortable. Just try to recognize if you might be too quick to give up on a new person or experience.

Challenging some of the assumptions and unhelpful ideas and expectations you have about therapy can ultimately free up space to help you recognize whether you might actually be ready to take the next step of seeing a psychologist or therapist. Until then, focusing on self-care and meaningful connections and using the many resources at your disposal can be an important way to prioritize your health and happiness.


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Cuijpers, P., Donker, T., van Straten, A., Li, J., & Andersson, G. (2010). Is guided self-help as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy for depression and anxiety disorders? A systematic review and meta-analysis of comparative outcome studies. Psychological medicine40, 1943-1957.

Jain, S., Shapiro, S. L., Swanick, S., Roesch, S. C., Mills, P. J., Bell, I., & Schwartz, G. E. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Annals of behavioral medicine33, 11-21. 

Lambert, M. J., & Barley, D. E. (2001). Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38, 357-361.  

Shakya, H. B., & Christakis, N. A. (2017). Association of Facebook use with compromised well-being: a longitudinal study. American journal of epidemiology185, 203-211.

“Life therapy”; what the &%$!@# is that?!

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“Life therapy”; what the &%$!@# is that?!

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“Life therapy”. The term or expression came about when talking with a couple of my colleagues a few months ago. I had recently been away for the weekend and mentioned having really enjoyed going for long walks on the beach while looking for sea glass: “It felt so good; long walks outside in nature really are MY therapy.” We started talking about the importance of finding something that you enjoy, that nurtures you and helps you to feel your best as being one’s “life therapy”. This idea of “life therapy” isn’t meant to replace traditional therapy in the office; what we refer to as “life therapy” are simply actions or things that you can do that allow you to care for yourself with kindness and help you feel your best. In other words, these are small things (they add up!) that can help us to be in a better position to enjoy life and navigate through its occasional challenges.  Essentially, the idea of life therapy is what is often referred to these days as self-care; something we are hearing more and more about in the media. The term self-care is sometimes misinterpreted, however, as being indulgent, and can have a negative connotation, as was well explained by Brianna Wiest in this article: “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from".

We believe that traditional psychotherapy (what happens in the office) is most often best suited on a short-term basis (not for life!); and one of the things we strive to assist our clients with during therapy is to help them to identify the things in their lives that allow them to feel their best. We like to call this “life therapy”. “Life therapy” refers to anything you do that helps you to feel well, healthy, balanced and generally happy. It’s a series of actions or behaviors that contribute to your overall health and well-being. I like to encourage my clients to experiment, and try different things until they find whatever it is that works best for them and helps them to feel their best.

I’m not suggesting that “life therapy” can protect anyone from experiencing harder times; challenges and ups and downs are a natural part of life (and some are more difficult than others), but the idea is that there are things we can do to care for ourselves that help us to navigate through the tough times and can help us to cope better. Ideally, we have a number of things we do that help us feel our best; things that are accessible and sustainable. Naturally, these things may change over time based on our needs, interests, etc., but the idea remains the same - taking time on a regular basis to prioritize yourself and to slow down, showing yourself kindness and connecting with yourself so that you can be attentive to your needs and honor them in a way that feels right for YOU. Of course, this will vary enormously from one person to another, because we all have different needs, interests, etc. The idea is to find what works for YOU and that whatever you choose as your “life therapy”, that it will be something you can realistically fit into your routine and commit to making happen fairly regularly as a practice (and YES, it’s totally normal to get off course; the idea here is that we catch ourselves when we get off our regular course of action and then choose to come back to our practice). Whatever that action may be, it will be something that has the effect of helping you to feel balanced, gives you a sense of well-being and a sense that you are working towards living your best life. There will be times when it is tougher to commit to our practice, when we might neglect to actually do the things that help us feel our best, (like when life gets tougher or busier, which is often when we could probably most benefit from it, - but this is LIFE!). The idea is to try and commit to noticing and catching this happening, and then choosing to restart your practice even when you fall off your “self-care wagon”. At Connecte, we encourage our clients to take time to connect with what’s important to them, with their needs and to honor them in whatever way is appropriate for them. For some, this may mean taking regular baths while reading a good book and for someone else it might be going for regular walks in nature or even getting outside to enjoy a long run. For more on helping identify what self-care/life therapy means to you and on how to make your self-care sustainable, check out Jodie’s blog post, Want to Change the World? Start by Connecting to You.

Thanks and Credit for use of photo : @ keswickandweldon

Thanks and Credit for use of photo : @ keswickandweldon

Keep in mind that our needs are likely to change over time, and it’s important to be flexible and in tune with our bodies, ourselves and to adjust and adapt as needed. Explore this idea of being flexible when it comes to our self-care further in Maeve’s blog post, Those Times When “Being Healthy”…. Isn’t. How To Integrate Self-Care Into Our Exercise Goals.

We want to hear from you!!

Some readers may not like the term “life therapy”; our idea was to find a word to refer to the thing(s) that one can do to help care for themselves and feel their best. It refers to what others tend to call self-care, but perhaps has a less negative connotation as being something indulgent. The idea of including the word life in our term “life therapy” is essentially that “life therapy” is something we intend to do over the course of our lives. It refers to something we prioritize and are committed to making happen (sort of like taking care of our teeth throughout our lives with regular visits to the dentist and daily brushing and flossing, etc.,). We would love to hear your thoughts about this idea of “life therapy” and hope you will share with us!

  • What sorts of things do you consider to be your “therapy”?
  • What do you think of the idea of “life therapy”?
  • What do you think of what we have chosen to call it (for now!)?

If you have suggestions for what this could be called; something other than life therapy or self-care, we would love to hear from you below in the comments or you can hop on over to Connecte's Instagram and leave your suggestions there, or tag a picture of your #lifetherapy moment!


Andrea Martin is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


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4 reasons why travel is good for our mental health

4 reasons why travel is good for our mental health

For those of us who love to travel, the days we spend exploring are just about as meaningful and fulfilling as they come. Traveling is a time to disconnect from the daily hassles and stress of work, experience the way other cultures live, try new flavours (a highlight, of course), and, ideally, escape the cold Northeastern winters. It is also becoming increasingly clear that traveling has a number of psychological benefits. Planning ahead and taking that vacation we have been dreaming about can have a positive impact on our well-being, relationships, and maybe even our personality.

1. Traveling can improve our mood and well-being

We all have an intuitive sense that taking a break or trip can help us feel recharged. The good news is that this feeling is supported by research. Taking a vacation actually does improve our well-being and mood (1-3). In addition to helping us feel happier and more relaxed, traveling can reduce burnout and make us feel like we are better able to handle our jobs when we return (4-6). In addition to improving our mood, taking time off work for a vacation is associated with a number of better physical outcomes, including fewer health complaints and improved sleep (2,4,7).

In most studies, we return to our pre-trip state about 3 to 4 weeks after returning home (2,5). However, even if some of the benefits are short-lived, taking a vacation can really help us cope in times of stress and there are plenty of other reasons why travel is good for our well-being.

2. Traveling can have a positive impact on our relationships

Building new connections and strengthening the relationships we already have is a big reason why so many of us are passionate about traveling (8).

For starters, it can sometimes feel much easier to meet, and even approach, new people when we are in a new environment and operating outside of our normal routine and comfort zone. Whether it’s through an organized tour or a chance encounter with a stranger at a café or museum, engaging with fellow travelers or locals can lead to meaningful interactions and even long-lasting friendships. There are also a lot of great apps and resources available for those who are committed to meeting new people while on the road, including Meetup, TravBuddy, and backpackr.

Traveling with our partner or family can also improve our existing relationships. Taking a vacation with our partner or spouse can actually increase our relationship satisfaction (9). Moreover, given that participating in leisure activities as a family can improve feelings of connectedness, it is likely that bringing the kids along can have a positive impact on family functioning (8). At the very least, traveling as a family will no doubt lead to stories and experiences that will be remembered for years to come.

3. Traveling can help us to practice gratitude

Traveling is also a great way to help us recognize how fortunate we are. Through interacting with different people and ways of life, traveling can help us realize our privilege and all of the things we have to be thankful for. Gratitude has been shown time and time again to help us live happier and healthier lives (10). Reflecting on the differences between the places we visit and our life back home, and being grateful for all that we have, including the means to travel, can help us feel more content. As a bonus, traveling and having the opportunity to meet others from different cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds can also help us to be more accepting of diversity and compassionate toward others.

4. Traveling can impact our personality

If that’s not enough, research has also shown us that traveling can impact our personality in some pretty interesting and unexpected ways! We know that personality traits, such as openness to new experiences, can influence how likely someone is to seek out travel opportunities. Even more interesting, is that taking an extended trip can actually influence our personality. For example, long-term travel abroad can lead to increases in our openness to experiences, agreeableness (e.g., warm, empathetic, giving), and emotional stability (i.e., easygoing) (11). Oftentimes, the driving force behind these changes are the experiences and interactions we have with others while on the road.

Taken together, traveling can be an exciting and fulfilling experience, especially when we seek out meaningful interactions and connections. That being said, traveling isn't always in the cards. This is often true during the times when we feel like we need a vacation the most. The good news is that there are things we can do to recreate some of the benefits of a vacation while on a staycation.

  • The main benefits of travel come from disconnecting from the stressors of our everyday life. If you are planning a staycation, make sure you disconnect in the same way you would if you were actually out of town. Refrain from using your phone or the internet (especially for work-related tasks).
  • Take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep in, and try to be physically active. These are all things we are better at prioritizing while away on vacation and a big reason why we find travel so relaxing (3).
  • Schedule social and leisure time. As tempting as it is to stay home and relax on the couch for a week, chances are this isn’t going to help you recharge. Instead, pretend to be a tourist in your own city. Try new restaurants, check out the local museum exhibit, and get lost wandering around a new part of town. Setting aside time for leisure activities is a large part of what allows us to feel the positive impacts of vacation and travel (12).

Ultimately, regardless of whether it is a staycation or vacation, the key is to try and be mindful and in the moment. It can be tempting to count down the number of days we have left, or to feel pressure to document each moment so that we can share it on social media. The more we can resist these urges and focus on the present, the more likely it is that our vacation will end up being the experience we hoped for. Finally, planning our staycation or trip is a large part of the fun, so remember to enjoy this process too!


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


REFERENCES

1. Chen, C. C., & Petrick, J. F. (2013). Health and wellness benefits of travel experiences a literature review. Journal of Travel Research, 52, 709-719.

2. Strauss-Blasche, G., Ekmekcioglu, C., & Marktl, W. (2000). Does vacation enable recuperation? Changes in well-being associated with time away from work. Occupational Medicine, 50, 167-172.

3. Strauss‐Blasche, G., Reithofer, B., Schobersberger, W., Ekmekcioglu, C., & Wolfgang, M. (2005). Effect of vacation on health: moderating factors of vacation outcome. Journal of Travel Medicine,12, 94-101.

4. Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 936.

5. Westman, M., & Eden, D. (1997). Effects of a respite from work on burnout: vacation relief and fade-out. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 516.

6. Westman, M., & Etzion, D. (2001). The impact of vacation and job stress on burnout and absenteeism. Psychology & Health, 16, 595-606.

7. Gump, B. B., & Matthews, K. A. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 608-612.

8. Pearce, P. L. (2012). Relationships and the tourism experience: challenges for quality-of-life assessments. In Handbook of Tourism and Quality-of-Life Research (pp. 9-29). Springer Netherlands.

9. Durko, A. M., & Petrick, J. F. (2013). Family and Relationship Benefits of Travel Experiences A Literature Review.  Journal of Travel Research, 52, 720-730.

10. Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30, 890-905.

11. Zimmermann, J., & Neyer, F. J. (2013). Do we become a different person when hitting the road? Personality development of sojourners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 515.

12. de Bloom, J., Nawijn, J., Geurts, S., Kinnunen, U., & Korpela, K. (2016). Holiday travel, staycations, and subjective well-being. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1-16.

The Many Benefits of Being in Nature

The Many Benefits of Being in Nature

By: Dr. Lisa Linardatos, Clinical Psychologist
Photos: Sarah Glaser and Lisa Linardatos

I never really articulated my love of nature until relatively recently. I didn’t grow up participating in many organized outdoor activities, and I never considered myself a particularly “outdoorsy” person. I knew when I moved from my rural hometown to the city I missed being able to see the milky way on a summer night, but the diversity and excitement afforded by a big city mostly overshadowed that loss. As I get older though, I find myself more and more drawn to nature, and when I take the time to appreciate it, it feels like a gift. I delight in it.

Inevitably, as a psychologist, I became curious about how being in nature affects people. As a researcher, I did not want to talk about the benefits of nature to my clients unless I felt there was adequate data to support such claims. Sure enough, as I describe below, being in nature not only positively affects our physical and mental health, but the benefits likely reach beyond the individual and have broader environmental and societal implications. Moreover, therapy is unfortunately inaccessible to many given its cost and long waiting lists. I also find therapy somewhat limiting in its usual format of weekly, one-hour sessions, so I’m always on the look-out for how clients can change their everyday environments to improve their mental health, and being in nature is one way to do so. Being in nature is a relatively simple and accessible way to better our well-being and mental health, and in giving it a try we have little to lose.

How is being in nature helpful for us?

Physical Health

I think many of us intuitively know that being in nature is helpful, but what does the science say about how it helps us? In terms of physical health, studies have linked exposure to nature to decreased diseases and a longer life span. Researchers Jolanda Maas and colleagues did a study where they looked at the medical records of 345143 people living in the Netherlands, and found that people living within a one-kilometre radius of a green space were less likely to suffer from various diseases including cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory disease, and neurological disease, as well as other health problems such as diabetes, migraines, asthma, and urinary tract infections (1). Also, at least one study has shown that living near green space is associated with living longer, even if people didn’t use the green space, and possibly has the most benefits for lower income individuals (2).

Mental Health and Cognitive Functioning

In addition to the slew of evidence linking exposure to nature and physical health, much research has found a link between nature and mental health. People living within a one-kilometre radius of green space experienced less anxiety and depression (1). Even just a short walk can affect our thoughts and feelings. For example, in a study done around Stanford, California, 60 participants were randomly assigned to a 50-minute walk either in a natural setting or an urban environment. Those who did the nature walk reported less anxiety, rumination, and negative mood and they were more likely to hang on to their positive mood (3). Similarly, a survey done on of over 10000 people in England has linked living in urban areas with more green space to greater life satisfaction (4).

"There are always flowers for those who want to see them."      
Henri Matisse

Our brains also seem to perform better when we’re exposed to nature. Our working memory is better, and we score higher on tasks that require concentration and “directed attention” (focussing on one specific thing while inhibiting distractions) (5).  Even children with ADHD concentrated better after a 20-minute walk in the park vs. a walk through the city centre or a walk through a neighbourhood (6).

Social and Environmental

There is an abundance of research showing that social support, social cohesion (i.e., shared norms and values and a sense of belonging and feeling accepted by one’s group), and a sense of community are beneficial for mental health (7). Common green spaces have been found to facilitate social contact, and could thereby increase a sense of community (8). That is, if you’re living in a neighbourhood where there’s a park, or an apartment building that has a shared garden or courtyard, you are more likely to have informal social contact with your neighbours. Some health professionals and local residents in London are capitalizing on the therapeutic benefits of gardening, and have created a network of food-growing gardens in various health care and hospital settings, where patients learn how to grow food that is then used to feed the hospital patients. As discussed in the article (check it out here), gardening can be used as way to reduce social isolation, not to mention depression, anxiety, stress, and disease, and may even increase the well-being of patients with dementia.

Being in nature might also make us nicer to others and nicer to the environment. In one study, people who watched a nature video were more cooperative and indicated a greater willingness to engage in environmentally sustainable behaviours compared to people who watched a video on architecture (9). And people who are exposed to nature vs. man-made environments reported valuing community and close relationships more and were more generous with their money (10). We also know that being nice to others increases our own positive emotions, such as happiness (11). I love these findings because it shows how far-reaching the benefits of nature can be. That is, exposure to nature seems to benefit us on a personal level, but also has environmental and societal benefits.

Spirituality and Connectedness

Many people also find that being in nature is a spiritual experience, and can facilitate the feeling of being connected to something greater, thereby decreasing feelings of loneliness. Feelings of awe, which is often elicited during exposure to nature (12), have been linked to an expanded perception of time and a greater wiliness to volunteer one’s time to help others (13). Awe-inspiring moments can also help us keep things in perspective, allowing us to feel like our problems are relatively small and fostering the belief that we can cope. For a dose of “awe”, check out the time lapse video below taken from one of Spain’s highest mountain.

"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness."    
John Muir

Being in nature also provides a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, a particular state of present-moment, sensory awareness linked to lots of positive mental and physical health benefits. Check out my colleague Natsumi’s blog post for more on mindfulness: Mindfulness: An Introductory Guide. And here’s a summary of research on mindfulness.

Fun tip: To learn more about my natural surroundings and to facilitate mindful moments, I bought this fun and easy-to-use field guide, Small Adventures Journal. It makes you feel like a kid again!

Why is being in nature beneficial?

What is it about nature that is beneficial for our well-being and health? One theory is based on the idea that in urban settings, we have more social stress, and this frequent processing of social stress may put us at risk for mental health issues (14). For example, it’s probable that in an urban setting we more often experience what is referred to as social evaluative threat - feeling judged and negatively evaluated by others – than in a rural setting.

Attention Restoration Theory (ART), on the other hand, suggests that urban environments cause mental fatigue as we’re often having to control where we direct our attention and filter out irrelevant information (15, 16). According to ART, natural environments and nature scenes (think sunsets, butterflies, and streams) are not overly demanding and easily engage our attention, and promote a sense of “fascination” and “being away” (15), thereby allowing us to rest our attentional resources.

Another theory, the Stress Reduction Theory (SRT), suggests that being in a natural environment reduces stress by activating our parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system responsible for calming us down (17). In support of SRT, studies have shown that viewing photos and videos of nature scenes decrease stress as measured by various physiological indicators, such as heart rate (18), and walking in parks and forests has been shown to reduce cortisol levels (19).

Although more research needs to be done to clarify, for example, how much exposure to nature is needed to make a difference in one’s health, benefits from nature exposure have been found across different mediums (e.g., images, window views, urban parks, rural areas) (5), for a variety of durations of exposure (minutes to hours to days to years) (20) and for a variety of things - mental and physical health, attention, concentration, and working memory (21). One of my favourite articles summarizing some of these findings is from National Geographic: This is Your Brain on Nature (22).

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."       
John Muir

Nature in and around Montreal

As many of us have busy schedules and some of us live in urban settings, it can be difficult to access nature. While writing this blog post, I thought it might be helpful to give readers some ideas of where to find nature in the Montreal area. So, I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations of nature spots in and around Montreal. Many graciously replied and below are their responses. I was delighted to read their responses and hear not just about great nature spots, but how nature fuels the imagination.

  • Parc nature de l'ile de la visitation

  • My daughter and I love Lachine rapids in Verdun. Lots of bird species, plants, trees, water stream changes a lot which is so exciting to watch for kids especially.

  • Parc des Rapides

  • Maybe a classic... But I always love a little excursion in Parc Mont Royal.

  • Morgan Arboretum is nice, and always love iles de boucherville and mont. st. hilaire.

  • Dawson college has an amazing peace garden. It's small but it completely lives up to its name! It is gorgeous! Parc lafontaine is nice and in the fall the botanical garden is magnificent (in a groomed kind of way). The absolute outdoor spot is mont saint-sauveur. I can get lost there for days (or I wish I could hehe)

  • Ps: the Dawson peace garden is a great green oasis in the middle of the concrete of the city.

  • Champ des possibles!

  • Canal walks daily keep me sane!

  • I love walks along the canal - and also love the sweet fairyland alleyways of NDG in the spring and summer.

  • Westmount park, Mont-Royal, Lachine canal, Nuns Island at the path along the water

  • Love this! #naturebath

  • The Stereo's back fire escape has one of the most breathtaking sunrises....

  • This may be a little gauche, but I love the cemeteries on the mountain...all of them. The back of the Mont-Royal cemetery (I think) has that new lookout which no one goes to and in the summer the smell of hot wildflowers is intoxicating. And all of the "secret" off-road trails on the mountain.

  • I love to get under the weeping willows at Parc Jarry. If there's people around, I use their trunks as "support for stretches"...but really I just want to pet them and be in contact with them! I will also give a love tap to massive old trees that are slowly uprooting the sidewalk in places. It's fun to just pause and look up up up from the bottom of the trunk and breathe it all in.

  • Oh! Actually, I think I also love the contrast here in Montreal. Like the tiny urban parks or even the cedar hedges in my backyard. Sometimes I feel like the proximity to streets/cars/city-ness makes me really appreciate the green even more. Like the front of our house is on a big-ish street, but when I get to the ruelle out back, I like to pretend that I've transitioned to our cottage.

  • Les îles de Boucherville are super pretty, the Botanical Gardens are lovely, Mont St Bruno parc for a child friendly hike, any of the state parks especially when the fall colours are here...

For more suggestions on how to get to know nature, check out these 10 tips from David Suzuki. You can also learn more about his 30 x 30 nature challenge (30 minutes a day in nature for 30 days) here. Montrealers also have the opening of this “secret garden” to look forward to.

Last but not least, for some added inspiration, check out this audio clip of birds singing recently recorded from a balcony in the heart of Montreal.


Lisa Linardatos is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


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