Arboretum News

Recharge Mental Energy

When our mental energy is too low, we experience ‘mental fatigue’ and that is when we need a Nature Fix.

Visiting the Arboretum: All members and visitors need to make a reservation in advance of their visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We hope to see you soon!

Stream near the Dwarf Conifer Collection in June at the Arboretum. Photo by Liz Potasek.

By Jean Larson, manager of the Nature-Based Therapeutic Services Program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Did you know our brains need energy to pay attention, and we only have only so much mental energy before it needs to be refreshed? When our mental energy is too low, we experience ‘mental fatigue’ and that is when we need a Nature Fix!  

According to Marc Berman (Industrial Engineer and Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago)  

“…Natural environments filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grab the attention in a bottom up fashion – allowing top-down directed attention abilities to replenish.  Unlike natural environments, the urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures the attention dramatically and additionally requires directed attention (e.g. to avoid being hit by a car) making them less restorative.” 

In other words, research tells us being outside restores our mental energy.  When we are outdoors, we pay attention in a different way.  For example, bottom-up attention is when you notice anything when you step outside. Your attention automatically goes there. This attention is involuntary, automatic and happens instantly. The top-down attention takes more time and concentration. It is within your control. This is the kind of attention required to write a sentence or drive a car.  

In a green space where trees grow, you do not have to pay direct attention to your surroundings. When in nature, your mind can wander and focus softly on the details. This kind of attention is not all consuming. Think of going outside as a gift you are giving yourself – a mental break or a mind massage.

Try it yourself – schedule several 5 minutes breaks throughout the day, then step outside, take 3 deep breaths, and feel the healing power of nature restore your mental energy.

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