European researchers recently conducted a survey of 323 Bulgarian students to learn whether seeing greenery in or near their home helped them avoid sadness and depression during Covid. Though it was a study where subjects self-reported symptoms, they found some interesting answers about greenery and depression.
One Dose of a Leafy View
They discovered that when subjects could see an abundance of greenery, either from their home or in their neighborhood, they reported lower depression and anxiety rates. Also, to a lesser extent, subjects who tended houseplants indoors or cared for a garden outside also had lower rates of depression and anxiety. Oftentimes, people explained that the greenery made them feel like they were “away” while at home. Perhaps, even like a mini green vacation. Neighborhood greenery also facilitated social support and more frequent engagement with the greenery. And that, in turn, also led to better mental health.
A Vacation in my Backyard
This totally mirrors my own experience during the Covid lockdown. As I’ve told more than one friend, during summer when I went deep into my backyard, like all the way down to my back fence, and worked in the garden, I felt removed from daily life. I felt far away from the pandemic and its limitations. Far away from the pain and sadness. As I focused on the plants, my mind settled. It quieted. By the time I finished, I felt restored and happy, as if I’d gotten away from it all. The effect was like a relaxing mini vacation during one afternoon.
The good news is spring is coming. We’ll be able to get into more outdoor greenery soon. What’s more, vaccinations are on the way. Being vaccinated will give us even more choices in enjoying outdoor greenery: parks, woods, outdoor barbecues, picnics. I hope you’ll make some time to take your own mini green vacation this spring!
Photo by Raychan.
For today’s Daily Stress Releaf, I want to talk about a profound thought I recently heard. The other day I watched David Brooks give a great Ted Talk. First, I have to say, I’m aware of his work with a social media platform where he might have had a conflict of interest (more here). But in his presentation, he talked about how intensely empty he felt after he’d gotten divorced. He said he’d fallen for the lies that our culture tells us: career success is fulfilling, that he could make himself happier with external results, that you are what you accomplish. We often believe that people who achieve more than others are actually better than others. So he found himself stuck in this valley of disconnection. He realized then, as he said, “When you have one of those bad moments in life, you can either be broken or you can be broken open.”
Our Souls Are Like a Hard Nut From a Tree
I love this metaphor. Of course, the first thing I related this to was a nut from a tree. In particular, a walnut, one of the hardest nuts to crack. I thought about how hard the shell is, how wonderful the seed inside. The shell protects the seed from the elements until it’s time to drop and break open. Afterward, the seed has all it needs to start creating a whole other tree. A new tree! And with a new tree comes a new life. Of course, with a new life comes rebirth and hope.
But if the nut is smashed to pieces, the seed might be rendered unviable. That seems the saddest of all outcomes. All that great growth and potential lost. In Brooks’s talk, he used the idea of being broken versus broken open to highlight how people descend into depression and anger. “We all know people who are broken,” he said. “They’ve endured some pain or grief. They get smaller. They get angrier, resentful, they lash out as the saying is ‘Pain that is not transformed gets transmitted.'”
How Can We Go From Broken to Broken Open?
He also talked about how some people take their misfortune, their pain, and transform it. If you can ‘suffer your way to wisdom,’ you can transform. He says to get in touch with your heart. Let your ego crumble. Then get in touch with your spiritual self, your soul. But the key is not to think you can do it alone. It’s integral to connect with other people. You need the others who can reach down and help you out of the valley of disconnection.
I recognize of course that this is so difficult in early 2021. We’re still hampered by the pandemic. Believe me, I understand. I’ve lost loved ones during this time and will soon lose another one. Some days are profoundly sad for me. I feel too broken to break open. It’s difficult to keep one’s chin up. But I hope you will hang in there. See the suffering through. Spring and vaccinations and a more social life are right around the corner. We have a lot to be hopeful about. I try to keep this in mind.
A Country That Can Heal
Brooks’s last thought was that we are having a national mental health crisis. So many of us, as the statistics show, are in pain. Our divided politics reflects that. So as an entire society, we need to recover. To help with that, he founded a project called Weave, which aims to connect people in communities. They want to shift people’s mindsets from one of individual achievement to one that finds reward in deep relationships and community success. You might want to check them out.
Until then, I hope you will not let yourself be broken, but choose to break open and grow a better day tomorrow.
Photo by Wouter Supardi Salari
Social media has always been a source of stress for me. I’ve had a like-it/hate-it relationship with it for a long time. I like when I make a new friend via Twitter or Instagram. It’s wonderful to exchange shared interests and thoughtful ideas with someone new in your life, especially someone I usually don’t or can’t see in person. But I hate it when I land on a post that makes me feel bad. I can feel anxious, inadequate, angry, sad, or even helplessly confused.
This bad tangled feeling culminated last summer. I thought long and hard about whether to leave social media all together. Finally, after agonizing over pros and cons, I came up with one way I can resolve those dark feelings while connecting with the positive people in my life.
The Artificial Aspect of Social Media
For me, the worst part of social media has always been the artificiality of it. There’s a never-ending stream of perfectly adjusted photos showing people, places, pets, children, food, and all else at their best possible moments. A woman walks on the beach with a slim body in a bikini on a beach. A sunset glows with various gorgeous colors on a lake. A child smiles with a mouth adorably covered in chocolate. And worst of all, glamorously dressed friends smile arm and arm, reminding the viewer what a great time they had without them.
And I have to confess, I’ve done it too. I love an alluring shot of a flower in my garden or how a rain drop pools on a leaf. I think my pets are the most adorable animals in the world and my travel outings are just as fun and interesting as anyone else’s. When The Forgetting Flower was released, I didn’t hesitate to post photos of the book reading and its release party. I’m culpable too.
But when posting these moments, I feel a strange mixture of pride and guilt at how lovely my life moment is while how unhappy someone else might feel at seeing it. I can’t resolve that while showing off, another viewer is secretly feeling envy or shame or plain sadness. I don’t like that dichotomy.
The bottom line is we’re all showing off something. One person shows off their awesome garden while another shows off a cute pet and another shows off an awesome vacation and another a fit body and another a best friend, and so on. And while that’s happening, someone else is feeling a negative emotion about it.
The Dichotomy Is Toxic
And it’s not just my sense of the experience. Everyone from computer science professor Cal Newport to public health researchers have talked about the negative effects of social media on people’s self-esteem. How it fosters depression and loneliness, especially in young adults. How it creates too much distraction and prevents the deep work of great art or scientific discovery or advancement in business. The effects are real and not healthy.
So I asked myself why was I still on it? Well, as I mentioned, I liked the camaraderie, especially on Twitter, of like-minded people. I’ve met gardeners and writers on that platform that have transferred into real-life friendships or at least acquaintances. I found publishing and promotional opportunities on Facebook groups. I’ve stayed up to date on my close friends’ latest career and family milestones on Instagram. And on Pinterest, I’ve found outstanding gardening, decorating and food ideas.
But I had to take a long hard look at how I could connect with those moments while preventing the sadder aspects. How could I post without seeming braggy or artificial? Finally, I realized the answer.
It’s Not About Me Anymore
I realized that if we’re all just showing off, then why not think of social media in those terms? So in my head, I renamed “social media” as “show off media.” This gave me a new perspective. Hence, I also gleaned a new approach. I became instantly self-conscious of what it was all about. And how I was contributing to the darkness.
In response, I vowed not to post anything that I didn’t think might help someone. If I posted a beautiful rose from my garden, then I better name the rose and give brief information on why and how others could grow it. When I shared vacation photos, I better include why people might want to go there, or ask where they had been recently. If I promoted my books, I’d need to include how they could entertain people and how buyers could get a discount or freebie.
In other words, I made it all about them.
Feeling More at Peace on Social Media
In doing so, I’ve felt cleaner and more whole. More positive. Now when I post, I feel like I’m serving the world a tiny bit. If I need to let folks know about book news in particular, I’ve found this website is the best place to do that. If readers come to my site, that probably means they already want information. So now, overall I feel like I’m helping. If I don’t feel like I can help someone on a certain day, I don’t post. It’s that simple.
There’s been another upshot to this approach. Under these parameters, I’ve avoided social media altogether for longer stretches at a time. I still check in for those good moments, but more readily hop off when I don’t find positive energy or posts that make me feel better.
For the last few weeks, my head and heart have felt fulfilled while also generous. And because I feel fulfilled and generous, I can spread those positive vibes around. As I go forward, I hope to reduce other people’s stress while enhancing my own online life.
So let me know how you’ve been feeling about social media lately. Have you been using it a lot? Gone off completely? Or still trying to find a happy balance? One thing’s for sure, it’s a tricky little devil.