Put Down the Blob, Stop Thinking — And Walk!

photo by asher isbrucker (creative commons)

Noted in both the Washington Post and the New York Times this morning, research just out (Monday) suggests that walking in nature helps reduce rumination (brooding, obsessing over unsolvable problems). The mechanism is unclear.

Why is that important? Because solid research (see Lyuborminsky) has indicated that rumination is both a symptom and cause of depression. Non-depressed folk that ruminate are much more likely to later become depressed. Depressed folk that ruminate are much more likely to become more depressed.

The researcher, Gregory Bratman at Stanford, measured bloodflow to a part of the brain associated with rumination, the subgenual prefrontal cortex. (In research on meditation, the prefrontal cortex has also been implicated in self-referential thought, and that self-referential thought is associated with unhappiness.) Post-walk, participants showed small but significant reduction of bloodflow to that part of the brain.

The Post also noted that short micro-breaks of looking at nature have “rejuvenating effects” on the brain. And the Post also noted that research that relies on brain scans to draw conclusions remains controversial. It’s certainly true that studies that measure something in the brain seem to be hailed as irrefutable by the press (see Blobology).

Still, if you’re depressed, take a walk! Or just go outside and take in some trees. It really does make a difference.

When Others Think They’re Depressed

“I had no doubt that Tiny thought he got depressed, but that was probably because he had nothing to compare it to. Still, what could I say? that I didn’t just feel depressed – instead, it was like the depression was the core of me, of every part of me, from my mind to my bones? That if he got blue, I got black? That I hated those pills so much because I knew how much I relied on them to live?

No, I couldn’t say any of this because when it all comes down to it, nobody wants to hear it. No matter how much they like you or love you, they don’t want to hear it.”
― John GreenWill Grayson, Will Grayson

The Godzilla Mayhem of Kids, Parents, and Family Screen Time. Tokyo is Torched.

godzillaphoto by JD Hancock (creative commons) In family therapy there’s the notion of the identified patient. A wife brings in a husband, parents a difficult child. But in our training as therapists we are taught to be skeptical of this set-up. Who else might be contributing to the problem?

The message we communicate to our kids… : “Everybody else matters more than you.” Children, she declares, “are tired of being the ‘call waiting’ in their parents’ lives.”

And from Catherine Steiner-Adair’s book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age:

One girl among the 1,000 children she interviewed in preparing her book said, “I feel like I’m just boring. I’m boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, any time, even on the ski lift.” A 4-year-old called her father’s smartphone a “stupid phone.”

Often we identify kids as having a problem with their devices. But let’s be real. We are all addicted to our screens. A spate of recent articles take on this issue. First, a July 6 article by Jane Brody in the New York Times, Screen Addiction Is Taking its Toll on Children fired off. Then a follow-up piece the next week: How to Cut Children’s Screen Time. Some of the assertions regarding large amounts of screen time:

  • it hinders normal development
  • older children spend over 11 hours per day on media
  • screen time offers distraction, detracting from the ability to self-soothe
  • viewing violent games creates an “immunity” to violence, in some cases a taste for violence
  • negative impact on health, behavior, school performance
  • sedentary nature and advertising promote poor diet and unhealthy weight gain
  • decrease in family conversation
  • teens send an average of 34 texts after going to bed
  • pain in fingers and wrists, narrowing of blood vessels in eyes

The anecdotal evidence that excessive screen time is problematic is everywhere. Any kind of intervention regarding children’s screen use that doesn’t include the behavior of parents is misguided and laughable at best, not to mention frustrating and fruitless. At Psychology Today, child psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley added her two cents in an article titled Wired Parent, Wired Child. Dunckley has just published (July 14)book on the topic Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time.

So what are some suggestions for reducing screen time? First, Brody:

  • Kids learn by example and modeling. Model responsible media use.
  • Keep devices out of bedrooms
  • Observe device-free moments during the day — pickup after school, mealtimes, the hour at home after school
  • Show kids they are worth your undivided attention
  • Provide alternative activities — but don’t fall into the trap of becoming their cruise director

Next, Dunckley identifies factors that help “facilitate screen management”.

  1. Education regarding the harmful physiological effects of screen-time.
  2. Realizing that interactive screen-time (video games, iPad, etc) is more problematic than passive (TV).
  3. Appreciating the quality of life improvements related to screen restriction.

If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, here a few more titles: Dwight Garner wrote a review of three books on the topic, Resisting the Siren Call of The Screen: 3 Books Offer Ways to Cut the Cord, If Only Briefly . It’s a helpful overview, though from 2013. The 3 books are listed here, as well as others mentioned in this post:

David Lovelace on the Perils of Mania

“Depression is a painfully slow, crashing death. Mania is the other extreme, a wild roller coaster run off its tracks, an eight ball of coke cut with speed. It’s fun and it’s frightening as hell. Some patients – bipolar type I – experience both extremes; other – bipolar type II – suffer depression almost exclusively. But the “mixed state,” the mercurial churning of both high and low, is the most dangerous, the most deadly. Suicide too often results from the impulsive nature and physical speed of psychotic mania coupled with depression’s paranoid self-loathing.”
― David LovelaceScattershot: My Bipolar Family

What the Depressive Knows

photo by picturenarrative (creative commons)

This quote might be a little tortured to read. It also might fall under the category of thinking that romanticizes the depressive. Yet if you stick with it, there’s something very accurate about the train of thought. Perhaps “know” should be in quotes.

“This is the great lesson the depressive learns: Nothing in the world is inherently compelling. Whatever may be really “out there” cannot project itself as an affective experience. It is all a vacuous affair with only a chemical prestige. Nothing is either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, or anything else except that it is made so by laboratories inside us producing the emotions on which we live. And to live on our emotions is to live arbitrarily, inaccurately—imparting meaning to what has none of its own. Yet what other way is there to live? Without the ever-clanking machinery of emotion, everything would come to a standstill. There would be nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know. The alternatives are clear: to live falsely as pawns of affect, or to live factually as depressives, or as individuals who know what is known to the depressive. How advantageous that we are not coerced into choosing one or the other, neither choice being excellent. One look at human existence is proof enough that our species will not be released from the stranglehold of emotionalism that anchors it to hallucinations. That may be no way to live, but to opt for depression would be to opt out of existence as we consciously know it.”
― Thomas LigottiThe Conspiracy Against the Human Race