Green and Environment Articles

Aromatherapy: The Good Smells That Can Make You Happier

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Aromatherapy: The Good Smells That Can Make You HappierWe take the power of scent too lightly. To surround self or surroundings with scent, even demurely, has tremendous potential.  

Aromatherapy can play a part in wellness, but its applications go way beyond the massage room at the spa. 

Some new takes on good smells — even some that you may recognize — follow below. And believe it or not, research backs up a lot of these findings.

For instance, dab a solid-gel flower scent (popularly sold by various makers) on your inner wrist. It can remind you of a behavioral habit you want to transform or bring you to a place of peace amid chaos of the coming day.

Help for Highly Sensitive People in Big Cities

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Help for Highly Sensitive People in Big CitiesBeing a highly sensitive person (HSP) can feel overwhelming.

Being an HSP in a big, boisterous city can feel utterly unbearable. That’s because HSPs have a hard time screening out stimuli. Specifically, the problem lies in artificial stimulation, according to Ted Zeff, Ph.D, a psychologist and author of three books on HSPs, including The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide and his newest book Raise an Emotionally Healthy Boy.

All sights, sounds and smells aren’t created equal. Compare a big city’s bright lights, big crowds, honking horns, pollution and bumper-to-bumper traffic with a smaller town’s hiking trails, chirping birds, ocean waves and scents of freshly cut grass.

It’s very hard to function when grating stimuli assault your senses, and you’re in a constant state of overwhelm. One of Zeff’s students told him that at times she felt like she was “walking around with no skin, like a sponge absorbing everything that comes her way.” Over time, this can affect your emotional and physical health, such as spiking your blood pressure, Zeff said.

Our Fear of Silence

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Our Fear of SilenceThe cultivation of mindfulness requires periods of focused attention. Many proponents of mindfulness maintain that this is best developed through seated, silent meditation. So before considering how to focus attention, we must first consider our relationship with silence.

Whether in the center of a city or deep in a forest, the cacophony of sounds around us makes it apparent that true silence is impossible. Composer John Cage wrote music that included long periods of silence. When the musicians stopped playing, concertgoers were quickly confronted with the shuffling, shifting, and coughing sounds in the concert hall.

So what is silence?

Pollution and Well-Being: A Startling Connection

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Pollution and Well-Being: A Startling ConnectionPollution can be ugly.  Just think of an industrial chimney spewing smog into the air.  It has devastating effects on the environment, plants and wildlife.  And we know that pollution has a negative effect on our physical health.  Since the 1970s, a recent article in Monitor on Psychology reports, we’ve studied the harmful impact of pollution on our cardiovascular and respiratory health.

A growing body of evidence indicates that the impact of pollution goes beyond physical health.  According to the Monitor, researchers have found that high levels of air pollution may damage children’s cognitive abilities, increase adult risk of cognitive decline and may even contribute to depression.

The issue is not as visible or taken as seriously as it should be, according to Paul Mohai, PhD, a professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources.

Why Hurricane Sandy Made Me Think of Winston Churchill

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Why Hurricane Sandy Made Me Think of Winston ChurchillI live in New York City, and the destruction in this region wrought by Hurricane Sandy is devastating.

So many people’s homes and  neighborhoods and entire towns were destroyed, and many more people can’t get basic necessities. It’s overwhelming to think about the amount of work that needs to be done to put things right–and to guard against this kind of disaster in the future.

I’m awed by people’s resiliency in the face of such circumstances. Watching the news the other night reminded me of one of my favorite passages in all literature, from Winston Churchill’s history of the Second World War, Their Finest Hour, about the events of 1940.

Preparing for Hurricane Sandy Emotionally, Psychologically

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Preparing for Hurricane Sandy Emotionally, PsychologicallyWhile most people who are likely to bear the brunt of Hurricane Sandy have already bought all of their bottled water and batteries, you can’t purchase peace of mind at Walmart (well, maybe you can, I haven’t checked lately).

So what can you do to prepare yourself for Hurricane Sandy from an emotional and psychological standpoint? How can you ensure you keep your calm and wits about you — especially if others are depending on you?

Here are some tips from our past combined articles on coping (mostly) emotionally and psychologically with a hurricane.

More Coping Tips for Highly Sensitive People

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

More Coping Tips for Highly Sensitive PeopleI recently wrote about 10 tips for highly sensitive people. As a highly sensitive person (HSP) myself, it’s great to learn about all the different things I can do when I find myself in a noisy, overstimulating environment.

An important part of coping effectively as an HSP is knowing how to soothe your senses. HSPs aren’t just sensitive to loud sounds; we also might be sensitive to bright lights, TV and computer screens, strong odors and certain foods (and their temperature).

For the article I spoke to Ted Zeff, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide. Zeff includes a helpful chapter in his book on what you can do to calm each of your five senses.

Here are some of those valuable tips.

4 Tips on Cultivating Mindfulness When You Live in a Busy, Bustling City

Monday, October 31st, 2011

4 Tips on Cultivating Mindfulness When You Live in a Busy, Bustling CityI don’t live in a big city. (In fact, the only noises I typically hear are birds chirping or cats in heat. Don’t ask.) But I’ve lived in NYC and have been visiting my family there several times a year for over a decade. So I have a fairly good grasp of what it’s like to be surrounded by a cacophony of car horns and ambulance sirens, a flurry of feet pounding the pavement, and hours (many hours) of traffic. Though it has many perks, city life is rarely peaceful or serene.

That’s why I really like the book Urban Mindfulness: Cultivating Peace, Presence & Purpose in the Middle of It All by Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of UrbanMindfulness.org. In it, he addresses specific problems that plague city dwellers and gives readers a variety of strategies to feel more calm and fulfilled. (He lives in NYC, so I think he knows what he’s talking about.)

He breaks his book down into exercises you can do “At Home,” “At Play,” “At Work,” “Out and About” and “Anytime, Anywhere.”

Negawatts: The Positive Psychology Behind Negative Energy

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Negawatts: The Positive Psychology Behind Negative EnergyAlmost every way we make electricity today, except for the emerging renewables and nuclear puts out CO2. And so, what we’re going to have to do at a global scale, is create a new system. And so, we need energy miracles.
~Bill Gates

A typographical error led Amory Lovins to coin the phrase negawatts. In a brilliant 1989 keynote address to the Green Energy Conference in Montreal he outlined what has become the blueprint for a radical business and energy concept.

Pay people to do nothing.

Twenty-plus years later the idea is deeply taking hold.

Design Psychology: Beyond Pretty Properties and Nice Knickknacks

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Design Psychology: Beyond Pretty Properties and Nice KnickknacksDesign psychology goes beyond aesthetics, and beyond art and decor books to find something more — it seeks to uncover your very emotions and thoughts about settings. Design psychology seeks to connect you to the types of places, spaces and items that evoke the most pleasant memories.

Design psychology is about discovering your personal style and finding a place that truly fulfills you and feels like home.

Here’s an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times article on how design psychology works…

3 Ways to Boost Your Mood Naturally

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

3 Ways to Boost Your Mood Naturally Imagine yourself outside. The sky is bright blue, the sun is sparkling and the air feels crisp and cool.

Maybe you’re walking along the beach, feeling the warm sand on your bare feet. Perhaps you’re riding your bike in a park, surrounded by hundred-year-old trees and singing birds. Or maybe you’re pinching the dirt as you dig through the backyard to plant a few flowers.

Being outdoors at a park, the beach or even just a few feet from our doorsteps can feel both relaxing and invigorating.

In fact, research has shown that participating in physical activity in the great outdoors can do a world of good for your psyche.

Treating Depression and Folate Deficiency With Medical Foods

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Midweek Mental Greening

First and foremost, I should offer a disclaimer for this post:

The scientific media briefing I watched this morning, “Feeding the Brain to Help Manage Depression: The Role of Medical Foods,” was presented by Rakesh Jain, M.D., M.P.H., the Director of Psychiatric Drug Research at R/D Clinical Research Center in Lake Jackson, TX and Teodoro Bottiglieri, Ph.D. of the Baylor Institute of Metabolic Disease, and sponsored by Pamlab, a pharmaceutical company specializing in prescription medical foods. Neither PsychCentral.com nor myself is affiliated with Pamlab or Deplin, the new medical food discussed during the briefing.

Now that that’s out of the way, on to the more interesting stuff.

“Can we feed the brain to regulate mood disorders?”

If you had no experience with or knowledge of medical foods (meant for nutritional or dietary management of specific diseases), you might’ve thought Jain and Bottiglieri were referring to feeding the brain – and our bodies – with actual food when you heard that question.

Instead, the men were referring to medical foods – more specifically, a new product called Deplin, a medical food that includes L-methylfolate, the only active form of folate that can cross the blood brain barrier and help with the synthesis of the neurotransmitters associated with mood and, consequently, mood disorders such as depression: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Research shows that people with depression and low folate levels are less likely to respond to treatments such as antidepressants and less likely to achieve remission.

(Unfortunately, a smorgasbord of factors can contribute to low folate levels – genetics, age, lifestyle choices like poor diets and smoking, certain medications like anticonvulsants, oral contraceptives, and lithium, and certain illnesses like Crohn’s disease, hypothyroidism, and diabetes, just to name a few.)

Well, that makes sense, right? I mean, if you need folate to help synthesize the neurotransmitters, and you don’t have enough folate, the neurotransmitters won’t be properly synthesized and your depression – even with the assistance of antidepressants – probably won’t get better. Or, at least, the chances of you getting better – and staying better for longer periods of time – will be decreased.

What didn’t make sense to me during most of the briefing was why folic acid and natural forms of folate (the kind you can get from green vegetables, for example) wouldn’t work just as well?

In other words, why do we need yet another pill?

How can you blame me? This column is called “Midweek Mental Greening,” after all.

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