Hiking Changes The Obsessive Brain

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Living in the Pacific Northwest is like living in an adventurer’s playground. From one end of the state of Oregon to the other is wild, stunning terrain of beautifully cared for nature offering men in recovery an endless list of options for adventure. A favorite activity among those living in “Portlandia”, Portland, Oregon, is going hiking. Hiking trails line the Oregon wilderness from parks inside the city, to just outside the city, to the Columbia Gorge, the Crater Lake National Park.

Taking a hike is a favorite among Oregonians for numerous reasons, one of which is that hiking helps you clear your mind of ruminations and focus entirely on being in the present. Men who have started their journey of recovery by coming to Tree House Recovery in Portland warmly welcome the opportunity to get outdoors and clear their minds of ruminating thoughts.

Obsessive thinking is a characteristic of addiction. The brain becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol by way of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine creates messages of pleasure, which creates the feelings of euphoria people get from drugs and alcohol. In the process, dopamine sends its messages to different areas like the reward system area called the  nucleus accumbens. Associating pleasurable euphoria with drugs and alcohol, the brain focuses on getting more drugs and alcohol in order to create more pleasurable euphoria. As the brain becomes more addicted, craving more and needing more mind altering substances, it obsesses and fixates on obtaining, using, and getting intoxicated on the substances. Since drugs and alcohol become part of the brain’s reward system, they become the brain’s ultimate solution. For any problem or stressful difficulty the brain encounters, obsessing about drugs and alcohol ensures using drugs and alcohol, receiving the production of dopamine from drugs and alcohol, thusly activating the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. Learning to combat obsessive thinking, especially obsessive thinking about drugs and alcohol, is part of the process of recovery.

In 2016, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that obsessive thinking can be significantly decreased by spending time in nature. Researchers compared the self-reported amount of ruminating thoughts in participants who were assigned to hike through either an urban or a natural environment. Combining the self reports with fMRI technology, the researchers discovered that the participants who regularly hiked through a natural environment for 90 minutes had less rumination in their self-reports. Additionally, their subgenual prefrontal cortex had less activity than their peers, indicating that parts of the brain related to mental health are affected by spending time in nature.

Tree House Recovery is a men’s addiction treatment facility offering long term partial care options. Our program combines the best of clinically proven therapy, intense fitness regiments, and the adventure of the great outdoors. Call us today for information: (503) 850-2474

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