Kathryn Schertz, Ph.D.: Understanding Our Connection With Nature | Doing Well #18

In this episode, host Lu Ngo is joined by Kathryn Schertz, a postdoctoral researcher in the Emotion & Self Control Lab in the Psychology Department with a Ph.D. in Environmental Neuroscience

Mother nature. Have you ever thought of throwing it all behind your back and running to the woods? What is the healthy life balance between modern technologies and nature? How much of overall well-being is linked to how close one is to the natural world?

Meet Kathryn Schertz

Kathryn Schertz is a postdoctoral researcher in the Emotion & Self Control Lab in the Psychology Department of the University of Michigan. She completed her Ph.D. in the Environmental Neuroscience Lab at the University of Chicago. Kathryn is interested in how the natural environment influences cognition, emotions, behavior, and the mechanisms of these effects.

Current Projects: What People Think About While Visiting Natural Environments, The Relationship Between Thought Content and Visual Features, and How Interactions With The Physical and Social Environment Influence Crime Broader Impacts.

In an effort to help city-dwellers experience natural stimuli in their daily lives, she co-developed a web app called ReTUNE which generates ‘restorative’ walking routes that account for greenspace, noise levels, and crime. The app currently works for the Hyde Park/Kenwood/Woodlawn area of Chicago and is in the process of being expanded.

About the episode

In this episode hosted by Lu Ngo, Kathryn defined well-being as a state of balance where an individual is thriving and satisfied in various areas of life, such as physical and mental health, work, relationships, environment, financial security, and spiritual practices. She emphasized that having a satisfying life involves combining these factors that work together.

Kathryn also addressed some misconceptions about well-being, such as that well-being means being happy all the time and the idea that practices like meditation and yoga are the only ways to achieve well-being. Overall, Kathryn believes that well-being is a complex and individualized concept that involves finding balance and satisfaction in various areas of life.

Moving on, the conversation shifted to nature. Kathryn suggested that building a connection with nature can positively impact mental health and well-being. Research shows that spending time in nature, even for short periods, and noticing natural elements can help build this connection.

It is not necessary to spend a lot of time in nature, but simple activities such as listening to birds or smelling flowers can influence mental health positively. Access to natural spaces like local parks, oceans, and wild natural areas can help build the connection.

Last but not least, Kathryn mentioned that although some people suggest that the best way to connect with nature is to simply spend time outdoors, she thinks that technology can be a helpful tool in encouraging people to connect with nature in various ways.

For instance, there are apps that can help identify plants and provide information about them, allowing people to engage with their surroundings more deeply. Social media can also play a role in connecting people with nature.

In conclusion

Feeling connected to nature, even if one cannot engage with it often, is associated with feeling happier and having higher levels of well-being. Every individual wants to feel grounded and share a sense of belonging. Maintaining well-being is a long personal journey, and your connection with nature is certainly a good place to start!

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