Nature does wonders for your brain. Here's how to escape if you're stuck in a city.

When I sit on a pillow on my bedroom floor to meditate, the first thing I notice isn’t my breath, or a sense of peace, or my inner voice — it's the sound of cars zooming past my window.

Normally I can tune out the noises of the city. I have to. I live in the middle of an urban area, so at all moments of the day, I can close my eyes and listen to cars honking, brakes squealing, and airplanes flying overhead.


No matter how long I’ve called cities my home, the urban din still induces anxiety in me. It’s a claustrophobic reminder that I’m surrounded on all sides by concrete, cars, and buildings.

Sometimes, I need an escape.

Lately, I’ve been finding that escape in small pockets of nature: the veins of green space that run through my city, the elements of the natural world that persist amid the concrete, and the sights and sounds of living things that are often drowned out by city life.

Learning how to connect to nature while in a dense urban area has worked wonders on my mental health, and it probably could help your head, too: There’s tons of research on how nature is medicine for the soul.

Here are a few of my strategies for connecting to the natural world when you live in a city.

Images via iStock.

1. Take advantage of green spaces inside the city.

Your city probably has more public parks than you realize. The next time you have a free Saturday afternoon, check out your city’s Parks and Recreation website instead of binge-watching the third season of "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix (no shame, I do it too). If you really want to put some distance between yourself and urban life, check out a nature preserve or find a trail that leads away from busy roads. If you’re feeling more social, see if your city’s Parks department has volunteer days, so you can explore a green space while meeting friends.

2. Think smaller.

Sometimes, you can’t disappear into a peaceful island inside the city, but you can still find some peace in the outdoors wherever you go.

A 2017 study from the University of British Columbia looked at the effects of connecting with nature on a smaller scale: noticing a flower, watering a houseplant, watching the sunset. Researchers found that even these seemingly minor encounters made people feel happier and more connected.

So the next time you’re feeling stressed or upset, take a walk to visit your favorite tree. It may seem silly at first, but it works.

Image via iStock.

3. Get out of town.

I know, I know — this isn’t always an option, especially if your transportation options are limited. But if you can rent a car or take a bus out to some nearby campgrounds or a state or national park, you should do it.

Spending time immersed in nature can literally change the way your brain functions. If you can find a spot without cell service, even better.

4. Spend more time noticing.

When you walk to the subway station, how many types of trees do you pass? The birds you hear outside your window — are they all the same species singing the same song, or is there variation?

You may not always have the time to physically escape the city to find nature, but you can take a few moments every day to let nature find you. No matter where you are, you can sit and listen and watch. You don’t have to be an expert birdwatcher or a trained biologist to engage in this exercise. But if you lean into your curious side, you will find yourself wanting to know more about the family of doves who live on your block, or how to distinguish between a sycamore tree and a maple. The more you discover about your non-human neighbors, the more connected you will feel to them. And that’s a relationship worth nurturing.

So get out there and find your peace in some nature! Sit quietly, observe, and listen to what the outdoors has to say.

Family
Truth

Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign. We don't do PSAs. We also need to update so to explain truth – the nonprofit behind the truth youth smoking prevention campaign – you could also say this in a funny way – best known for sharing the facts about smoking and vaping or pull from some old campaigns. Just layer in a description of truth and who the campaign is., is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

truth
True
LUSH

Handmade cosmetics company Lush is putting its money where its mouth is and taking a bold step for climate change action.

On September 20 in the U.S. and September 27 in Canada, Lush will shut the doors of its 250 shops, e-commerce sites, manufacturing facilities, and headquarters for a day, in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike taking place around the world. Lush is encouraging its 5000+ employees "to join this critical movement and take a stand until global leaders are forced to face the climate crisis and enact change."

Keep Reading Show less
Planet
via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being

The fine folks at Forbes are currently falling all over themselves trying to clean up the mess they created by publishing their 2019 list of 100 Most Innovative Leaders.

The problem: The list included 99 men and one woman. For those not so good with the math, that means according to Forbes, only 1% of the country's most innovative leaders are female.

Have you ever watched a movie that's so abysmally bad that you wonder how it ever even got made? Where you think, "Hundreds and hundreds of people had to have been directly involved in the production of this film. Did any of them ever think to say, 'Hey, maybe we should just scrap this idea altogether?"

That's how it feels to see a list like this. So how did Forbes come up with these results?

Keep Reading Show less
Innovation