I’m working on an article for work, and came across this article as part of my research for the article. It pretty much sums up everything I wanted to say (darn it!).
Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy. What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
In contrast to the European Union, which mandates 20 days of paid vacation, the U.S. has no federal laws guaranteeing paid time off, sick leave or even breaks for national holidays. In the Netherlands 26 days of vacation in a given year is typical. In America, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong workers average 10 days off each year. Yet a survey by Harris Interactive found that, at the end of 2012, Americans had an average of nine unused vacation days. And in several surveys Americans have admited that they obsessively check and respond to e-mails from their colleagues or feel obliged to get some work done in between kayaking around the coast of Kauai and learning to pronounce humuhumunukunukuapua’a.
The article focuses on mental downtime options like naps and meditation, which are awesome, but I would argue that being awake and aware, but also not actively engaged, like going for a walk or just sitting down and observing a garden, are good options too, especially since getting outside has also shown to be mentally reinvigorating.
According to the TKF Foundation, more than 80 percent of the U.S. population and 50 percent of the global population now live in urban areas. To ensure people can live in dense environments packed with people, parks and open space are critical. Without those, people flee to the suburbs to get away and have access to more nature.
So to green cities, landscape architects and planners are now “comprehensively integrating ecology and nature into built environments using systems approaches, such as green infrastructure, low impact development, and urban landscape ecology.” The cost of these efforts is justified by “call outs of better air and water quality; reduced heat island effect; and reduced carbon emissions.” While those benefits are clearly very valuable to quantify, there has been a recent movement to quantify the human health and well-being benefits of all this urban green in “stress recovery, improved mental health, faster healing…
Creating something with your hands, learning a craft, and being successful with something even as simple as crochet can have huge positive effects on people. That effect that be even more significant if you’ve been a screw-up your whole life, as many people behind bars feel they have been. This story about bringing knitting workshops to prisons is a great example, similar to the Puppies Behind Bars program or helping to raise endangered frogs, of how doing something as simple as a pearl and stitch can have huge psychologically positive impacts.
In late 2009, Lynn Zwerling stood in front of 600 male prisoners at the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, Maryland. “Who wants to knit?” she asked the burly crowd. They looked at her like she was crazy.
Yet almost two years later, Zwerling and her associates have taught more than 100 prisoners to knit, while dozens more are on a waiting list to take her weekly class. “I have guys that have never missed one time in two years,” Zwerling says. “Some reported to us that they miss dinner to come to class.”
Zwerling, 67, retired in 2005 after 18 years of selling cars in Columbia, Maryland. She didn’t know what to do with her time, so she followed her passion and started a knitting group in her town. No one came to the first meeting, but the group quickly grew to 500 members. “I looked around the room one day and I saw a zen quality about it,” Zwerling says. “Here were people who didn’t know each other, had nothing in common, sitting together peacefully like little lambs knitting. I thought, ‘It makes me and these people feel so good. What would happen if I took knitting to a population that never experienced this before?’”
Her first thought was to bring knitting to a men’s prison, but she was turned down repeatedly. Wardens assumed the men wouldn’t be interested in a traditionally feminine hobby and worried about freely handing out knitting needles to prisoners who had been convicted of violent crimes. Five years passed before the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup accepted her, and Knitting Behind Bars was born. “I [wanted to teach] them something that I love that I really believe will make them focus and happy,” Zwerling says. “I really believe that it’s more than a craft. This has the ability to transform you.”
The brain is such an amazing thing, and has such amazing capabilities to recover, it just needs the right tool; in this case, using video games as a type of mental and physical therapy for stroke victims. Using computer games is also useful because it is more engaging for the brain, rather than traditional physical exercises like “pick up the cup” since framing it as a game often makes it seem less consequential for players (this is a new exercise whereas they used to know how to pick up a cup) and therefore less pressure and more fun:
Four mechanical-engineering students at McGill University in Canada have developed an inexpensive sensor glove that allows patients to exercise in a game-like fashion at home with minimal supervision. Self-therapy? Well, yes and no. Using the accompanying software, doctors will be able to monitor their charges’ progress off-site, cutting down on hospital visits and costs.
The added benefit of remote monitoring for doctors is also good for the patient, as the doctor can respond right away if they see something wrong or can provide immediate feedback, rather than having to schedule an appointment, travel to the doctor’s office, and have all of your questions answered, all of this being extra hard after you’ve had a stroke and need others to help transport you.
I have heard of this kind of therapy before, how autistic kids tend to respond better to robots teaching them emotions and proper social responses; the robot acts as a sort of bridge, or neutral third party for the kid:
STEVENAGE, England (AP) – Eden Sawczenko used to recoil when other little girls held her hand and turned stiff when they hugged her. This year, the 4-year-old autistic girl began playing with a robot that teaches about emotions and physical contact – and now she hugs everyone.
“She’s a lot more affectionate with her friends now and will even initiate the embrace,” said Claire Sawczenko, Eden’s mother.
The girl attends a pre-school for autistic children in Stevenage, north of London, where researchers bring in a human-looking, child-sized robot once a week for a supervised session. The children, whose autism ranges from mild to severe, play with the robot for up to 10 minutes alongside a scientist who controls the robot with a remote control.
The robot, named Kaspar, is programmed to do things like smile, frown, laugh, blink and wave his arms. He has shaggy black hair, a baseball cap, a few wires protruding from his neck, and striped red socks. He was built by scientists at the University of Hertfordshire at a cost of about 1,300 pounds (US$2,118).
Where do we get artistic ideas and inclinations? What is it about the brain that makes us like art? Neurologist Antonio Damasio writes about his ideas why in his new book, Self Comes to Mind.
In his new book, Self Comes To Mind, neurologist Antonio Damasio argues that consciousness gave humans an evolutionary advantage. Damasio describes the differences between self and mind, and traces the evolutionary path of the human brain.
Where do we get the ability to create works of art, to be moved by a piece of beautiful music or to feel bad when someone says something hurtful?
Grace Bonney at Design*Sponge is creating a design book, but as a business owner also appreciates the need for your own creative/productive space. Hence, two blog posts (and hopefully book sections) dedicated to creating spaces that are good for productivity and innovation:
…there are over 20 amazing offices in this final group, ranging from simple, minimalist desks to colorful offices that will wake you up with bright paint and hot pink piping. Visit here for Part One.
Being able to relax during medical treatments makes treatments more effective, as well as making better patients. Diane Brown is working to add a little art and light to a scary place: hospitals.
“While hospitals have become more physically welcoming in recent years, with new buildings designed by famous architects and lobbies filled with art, those changes rarely find their way to some of the hospital’s most difficult spaces — the rooms filled with machinery where treatment actually happens.
Diane Brown is trying to change that. She’s the founder of Rx Art, a nonprofit group dedicated to bringing art into the examination room and giving patients a way to escape their bodies’ sickness through their minds’ imagination.”
Pesticides used in industrial farming, lawns, and other urban greenery have been linked to all sorts of child development health issues, and now a study is suggesting one more. A study released in the May issue of Pediatrics Journal argues that there’s a connection between high exposure to common pesticides and increased risk for children developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
Maryse Bouchard and colleagues looked at more than 1,100 children aged between 8 and 15. All of them had been sampled by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2000 and 2004, and 119 had been diagnosed with ADHD. Bouchard’s team studied their urine samples for chemicals called dialkyl phosphates, which result from the breakdown of organophosphate pesticides used to protect fruits and vegetables.
For a 10-fold increase in one class of those compounds, the odds of ADHD increased by more than half. And for the most common breakdown product, called dimethyl triophosphate, the odds of ADHD almost doubled in kids with above-average levels compared to those without detectable levels [Reuters].
I posted this on my other blog, Art of Science, because it concerns the science behind pretty sounds, but it’s also important from an environmental enrichment perspective – in fact that’s what Julian Treasure does for a living – so I wanted to also post it here:
Listen to Julian Treasure’s TED talk about sound. [And really listen! Close your other computer screens, turn off the email “ping”s and listen.]
Treasure says our increasingly noisy world is gnawing away at our mental health — even costing lives. He lays out an 8-step plan to soften this sonic assault (starting with those cheap earbuds) and restore our relationship with sound.
Julian Treasure is the chair of Sound Agency, “a firm that advises worldwide businesses — offices, retailers, hotels — on how to use sound. He asks us to pay attention to the sounds that surround us. How do they make us feel: productive, stressed, energized, acquisitive?
Treasure is the author of the book Sound Business and keeps a blog by the same name that ruminates on aural matters (and offers a nice day-by-day writeup of TEDGlobal 2009). In the early 1980s, Treasure was the drummer for the Fall-influenced band Transmitters.” (Source: TED)