Tag: goals

Could Urban Parks Make Us Happier?

By Dr. Brad Meier, Clinical Director

Surrounding CAST Centers are urban parks in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

CAST Centers is surrounded by several urban parks in West Hollywood & Beverly Hills: West Hollywood Park, WeHo Art Park, and Beverly Gardens Park to name a few. What can urban parks do for our mental health?

A recent study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that urban parks could make you happier.  “New findings that suggest spending 20 minutes in an urban park will make someone happier regardless of whether they are engaging in exercise or not during the visit.” Furthemore, how does this latest news compare to evidence and prescriptive actions for depression and anxiety?

Richard Louv, a renowned journalist and author, has written extensively about the importance of connecting with nature.  He coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to describe an epidemic of sorts in American society where people are every-increasingly disengaged from nature.   At an Integrative Health Conference on the campus of the University of Southern California in November 2018, he cited correlational research indicating an increase in emotional difficulties (e.g. depression) and physical maladies (e.g. obesity) as people spend less and less time outdoors.  He noted that younger generations report loneliness quite often as a primary concern, in contrast to older generations who spent much more time outdoors. He talked about the intuitive appeal of the outdoors being a hunger “for connection to other life.” The city of Cincinnati recognized the importance of children being in nature with their campaign of “Leave no Child Inside.”  A pediatrician in Washington, DC organized a campaign for all pediatricians to write prescriptions to spend time in nature for their children patients. Additional evidence about the importance of some integration of nature into our lives can be seen by the explosion of “companion” animals that people flock to certify so as to be able to maintain regular contact with their beloved pets.  Anthropological works have shown that a range of indigenous cultures where their communities and rituals are centered around a connectivity to nature.

There are at least two barriers to research looking at the benefits of nature.  One involves defining what is in fact “nature.” Rigorous research requires a consistent definition of the independent variable.  There is intuitive awareness of what nature is, but certainly the definition can vary. Another obstacle is the fact that much of the research is paid for or sponsored with the intention of sell products (e.g. pharmaceuticals).  Thus, there are less dollars available for research exploring the benefits of nature.

“As a psychologist, I routinely ask people about their physical and outdoor activity; touting the many benefits of even modest outdoor exposure along with exercise.”

— Dr. Brad Meier

With this in mind, there is an ever-increasing encroachment of evidence that people benefit by engaging with nature.  Work out of the University of Illinois links outdoor activities with improved focusing, and less anxiety and depression. Time in nature has also been associated with improved self-esteem.  ADHD research has shown that physical activity outdoors has a much greater benefit regarding attention and concentration compared to those who exercise indoors (such as a gym). Children who play outside have been shown to be healthier, happier and test better in school.  We have known for a long time that sunshine exposure is linked with improved mood, especially for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Sunshine was even shown in one study to help the healing process of those recovering from spinal surgery.

As a psychologist, I routinely ask people about their physical and outdoor activity; touting the many benefits of even modest outdoor exposure along with exercise.  This research in this article is particularly interesting because the time needed to have a benefit from exposure to nature is relatively short (20 minutes) and is not linked with any specific effort to increase the heart rate.  My sense is that it has something to do with the connectivity with life outside of ourselves that people experience when outdoors.

A yearning for connectivity for something greater seems to be part of the human condition. This is consistent with a spiritual perspective where people feel a connectivity to something vast and greater beyond their immediate lives.  It is also consistent with the tenants of Alcoholics Anonymous and related 12 Step groups which emphasize community engagement, helping others and connectivity to a “higher power,” with the focus being beyond the specific life focus of the individual.

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By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters

February is the month of relationships. Valentine’s Day tends to skew the focus towards romantic relationships, but I would like to broaden that to all of our close relationships, whether they are with family, friends, co-workers or partners.

As we begin the process of recovery and living from a place of greater integrity, most of us will quickly realize that we must show up differently in our relationships. Due to the reflective nature of relationships in general, this also includes the way in which we show up for ourselves. We no longer want internal conflict, lack of discipline (boundaries), or disrespect. We want to value and be valued.

We will find that if we are not practicing tools to address unwanted issues in our internal lives, we will struggle to implement them in our relationships. We will begin to notice that as we gain more awareness around our behaviors, we also gain awareness around the behaviors of others, which can occasionally lead to conflict. This can be potentially problematic; if an argument happens to arise, remember to use “I” statements, and thread compassion through your words. Even disagreements can be had harmoniously.

In the same manner that we must set aside fear of vulnerability in our recovery, we must also do so in our relationships. Fear keeps us from communicating properly: fear that we won’t have our needs met, fear that we won’t be understood, or, even worse, fear that we will not be accepted. To counter this, we must first ask ourselves what our fear is about. We must get specific. If the fear is about having our needs met, we should ask ourselves “Is this a need I should be looking to have met externally?” If the fear is that we will not be understood, we should ask ourselves “Am I really afraid of not being understood, or am I afraid of what the response might be?” And if the fear is that we will not be accepted we ask, “If speaking my truth leads to this person not accepting me, then what is most important to me? Being honest or not being alone?”

These are deep-dive and uncomfortable questions to answer. Navigating relationships can be difficult, but as a wise person once said “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love someone else?”

Setting Goals

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters

As we ring in the new year, almost all of us begin the process of making New Year’s resolutions. There are standard ones like getting back into shape, quitting smoking, budgeting better, spending less time on social media, etc, and, as most of us have experienced, these resolutions generally have a lifespan of about a month. Not because we lack gumption or willpower, but generally because we lack clarity and we are unrealistic.

In order to set attainable goals for ourselves, we must first be very clear about what it is we want. Setting the goal of ‘getting back in shape’ for example, is not very clear, there is no ‘how’ behind it, but setting the goal of going to the gym 5x a week for an hour is much more clear, it explains how you are going to start working towards your goal. There is structure there in the form of a schedule that you have set for yourself. This goal is therefore more attainable.

For the sake of argument however, let’s say you have this same goal of going to the gym 5x a week for an hour but you also work 60 hours a week and haven’t worked out in years. This goal then would be unrealistic for you. There is nothing wrong with starting small. It would be more realistic for you to go to the gym 2x a week and just do cardio and some basic exercises. You can then build on your success after a few weeks. Slow and steady wins the race.

The same can be said of our goals for the most important aspect of our lives: our relationship with ourselves. Are we determined to be more compassionate with ourselves? To truly know ourselves? To accept all the parts of ourselves? When we cultivate an inner-life of love and integrity, we begin to reflect this onto our relationships not only with the people in our lives, but with how we perceive the world and life itself. When we practice this, we begin to build a life that makes reaching our goals much easier and much more worthwhile.

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