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Ask the Introvert: Seeking calm for the holiday season? Get outside

Researchers at Harvard University, among others, have found that the more we walk in nature, the less we overthink. Technically? Natural stimulus reduces activity in our prefrontal cortex. That’s the area devoted to abstract thought, which introvert brains seem to favor. 
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Sharon Glassman, Ask the Introvert columnist

What’s an introvert? How does introversion affect us at work and play? In our friendships? In our search for meaning and happiness?

I’ll explore these and other timely questions about introvert life in this column, as an introvert entrepreneur, artist and journalist. 

Want to ask a question? Just use the email below.

P.S.: even if you don’t think of yourself as introverted, you may find some helpful info here. Why? Because, to paraphrase Ben Franklin: we assume our differences divide us, only to find we share common ground.

Today’s introvert-astic question: Why is holiday outside time so in-portant?

A typical year’s social events can turn the most good-natured introverts into grumpy Grinches. 

All that small talk. 

Expectations of being charming and merry.

Can I get a nook where I can hide and recharge my batteries, please? (Or, as I did as a more limber lass: Can I hoist myself over the locked 6-foot fence surrounding your condo loft and refill my quiet tank by wandering these city streets? Yes, I can. See ya.)

This year is, to put it mildly, atypical.

But while our calendars might not include traditional parties, introverts still can feel overwhelmed by holiday Zoom calls. Domestic close quarters. People. (It’s nothing personal. Seriously.)

That’s because introvert brains are doing their standard overthink, deep feel, deplete inner batteries routine.

So, what’s a holiday-frazzled innie to do? 

A potential rebalancing agent is right outside your door and window.

Ecotherapy: the innie’s best friend

The name for the practice of getting out of your head by heading into nature is called ecotherapy.

Yep, I know. But again, before you cry, “Gah. There she goes, all Boulder County hippie wannabe,” please note: Ecotherapy is a real — and potentially positive — practice. 

Bonus for introverts info nerds: There are studies that explain why observing leaves and sky overhead and walking with grass underfoot can reduce mental stress.

Before we continue, have you ever felt relaxed by the sight of a falling leaf? The burble of a brook? There’s a reason for that.

Researchers at Harvard University, among others, have found that the more we walk in nature, the less we overthink. Technically? Natural stimulus reduces activity in our prefrontal cortex. That’s the area devoted to abstract thought, which introvert brains seem to favor. 

Prefrontal rumination can be a great tool for projects that require revisions and rethinking. Writing poetry, for example. But not so helpful if we’re embroidering our worries about (fill in your favorite social anxiety here).

So nature focuses the brain on a calmer here and now. This positive action/reaction leads us to the concept of ecotherapy: using nature’s happy effects to reduce anxiety and depression.

2020_07_08_LL_Dry_Creek_Park_sunset4A stunning sunset at Dry Creek Park in Longmont. (Photo by Macie May)

Make yourself an ecotherapy holiday sandwich

If you’re familiar with the critique technique where you hide a critique between two compliments (“Love your shoes. Your calculations of the suborbital rotation of our satellite were off by 20%; the font was very readable, however, well done.”), an ecotherapy sandwich is like that, only experiential. 

In place of a compliment to someone else, you start with a slice of outdoor time for yourself. Pick a time and place that’s quiet and sparsely populated if you can.

Then, the sandwich’s inside layer: attend the call, do that at-home togetherness thing. Afterward? Head back into nature for a psychic palate cleanse.

Pro tip: If you’re still feeling stressed, you can top your ecotherapy sandwich with a little primal scream. Mother Nature has heard it all before.

Note: This is the second installment of a three-part series designed to help introverts quietly navigate holiday stress with a touch of fun, too. Coming on Dec. 20:
Quiet holidays for introverts.



Sharon Glassman

About the Author: Sharon Glassman

Sharon Glassman is a Longmont-based introvert lifestyle journalist and creator of Smile Songs gifts. Follow and connect with her on Instagram at @smile_songs.
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