De-stress with Fractal Patterns

Catalpa “paws”

Is the Universe a fractal? No, but hundreds of billions of stars group together to form galaxies and are considered “fractal-like.” Do you understand this? I did not, so of course, I read a bit. Polish-French-American mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot is credited with putting forth Fractal Geometry where a mathematical formula frames “self-similar” repetitions in “…the geometry of deterministic chaos.” In other words, there is an order behind the scenes! Patterns repeat themselves at smaller and smaller scales in meandering river tributaries, mountain ranges and galaxies.  

A closer-to-the-backyard (and more understandable) description of fractals is to look at irregularly-shaped tree branches where any small twig resembles the whole tree. This notion that the basic form of the whole repeats itself over and over was initially offered by German mathematician Felix Hausdorff in 1918, but Mandelbrot coined the term “fractal” (from Latin fract, meaning “broken”). Stay with me, even if you find fractal geometry obtuse. This story, like all stories, has roots.  

Stay with the tree example. Trees are fractal from their roots to their leaves. Investigate the veins of tree leaves. Leaf midline veins look like a tree trunk with its many branches. Tree branches (from Latin branca, meaning “paw”) have connections. In shaking one branch, a cascading of shaking in other branches follows. Are you thinking about human connections now? The orchestration in your brain-branching of a neuron’s axons and dendrites is a connection-maker.

Here is what you really need to know: research studies (using fMRI) show that a person just looking at fractal patterns in nature can reduce their stress levels up to 60%. Architects discovered that patients recovered more quickly from surgery when their hospital rooms had windows that looked out upon nature. Nature-watching can produce a physiological resonance that occurs within the eye–which in turn, increases alpha brain waves in the brain–resulting in relaxation and a sense of wellbeing. Observing fractals may combat mental fatigue and even help with anger management.

Fractal self-similar patterns in nature are everywhere–in lightning, hurricanes, snowflakes, pinecones, flowers, and your own connection-maker tubular branches (bronchioles) in your lungs. Additionally, without being conscious of the self-similarity idea, we overlook how much art and music have fractal patterns. Some individuals relax by drawing or coloring mandalas with intricate, repeating fractal patterns. Georgia O’Keefe’s nature paintings feature fractals. Composers have repeating themes in their symphonies. Create fractal art! Hum fractal music!

Our personalities are a kaleidoscope of fractal patterns. All of us have changing melodies and rhythms that interact with other people’s fractal organizations. We stress out with some individuals and de-stress with others. Hmm…do trees have such strong preferences for certain other trees and want to turn their leafy backs to other trees?                                                      

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

111. What determines your stress level when you encounter another person?

112. How do you spend time in nature?

(If you physically cannot be face-to-face with trees and other nature buddies, there are apps that can replicate naturally-occurring fractals). 

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. I was drawn by your comment that “…we stress with some individuals and de-stress with others…” I’ll have to think a little more about how fractal patterns are a part of this. Liene


  2. All of us tend to get into certain veins of thinking about a particular person. Once we keep adding branches of thought patterns (either positive or negative) we become as ingrained in our opinion as tree bark! This is a bit of a stretch, but hopefully it makes a point. The brain itself is in the fractal category!


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: