It’s been a busy week at work and you’re ready for a break. You gather the friends and family together, get the walking boots out and set off on your weekend stroll through the local woodland. With the sounds echoing through the trees and the smells flowing through your sinuses, the weight that was once on your shoulders begins to fade… It’s no myth that being out in nature is good for you; in fact, we’re constantly surrounded by messages telling us how important it is to immerse ourselves in the natural world. But what is it that actually underlies these benefits? Why should I spend my precious hours of free-time exploring untouched parts of the globe? We would love to say it’s the result of nature’s magical quality casting spells on us as we navigate the trees, but this would of course be a lie… In actual fact, the true impact nature has on us as human beings are about as far from fiction as you can get…
We could discuss the most obvious benefits that come from spending time in these green spaces: clean air for us to breathe, square-mileage for us to exercise and private locations to socialise with other people. But hopefully you all know about those things by now. The really interesting stuff comes from understanding the psychological benefits that nature has to offer. Without having to interact with these spaces at all, we can simply step into the natural world and experience biological benefits to both our mind and body! Using the fancy terminology, psychologists call these influences, nature’s ‘stress-recovery’ and ‘attention-restorative’ effects. Put simply, all this means is that observing the natural world is enough to reduce the stress you’re under and prevent you from becoming fatigued. Our brains have evolved over time to release chemicals that boost your mood when you look at the trees, plants and wildlife around you. You could say our brain enjoys processing this scenery, and so when we look around and are suddenly induced with a buzz of positive emotion it’s the result of a hard-wired automatic response to nature from our brains.
Diving a little deeper, when you engage in a complicated task you’ll be applying what’s known as your ‘focused attention’. This means you’ve had to force yourselves to focus on something in order to get that task done. Say you’ve been studying hard for an exam or reading an instruction manual for too long, you’ve probably found yourself getting tired and fatigued. Nature on the other hand requires only ‘automatic attention’; a different type of mental activity where focus is drawn immediately and effortlessly to the things around us. This means when we are feeling exhausted, spending time in a natural scene gives our brain a breather, allowing it to recharge and restore itself to full strength. That’s why people are encouraged to take breaks by stepping outside during difficult tasks, as it’s something your brain will really thank you for in the long run. All in all, the human species has evolved an innate and hard-wired love for the natural world that goes beyond just the pretty views and stimulating sounds. Whether it’s boosting our mood or restoring our energy, our mind has developed a much deeper, biological tendency to feel good in the midst of nature.
We’re lucky enough to have access to a beautiful planet, with unspoiled natural landscapes on our doorstep. These mental benefits just show that there is actually more to thank nature for than what first meets the eye.
To help demonstrate the true benefits of nature we have gathered several activities for you to keep in mind. Encouraging you to go out and utilise the precious gift we’ve all been given, these exercises highlight ways for us to feel more connected to nature.
Whether it’s a city park, canal towpath or local nature reserve, none of us must travel far to access an element of nature. With research confirming their undisputable benefits to our mental health, it is up to us to go out and find them! Whether your windows look out onto rural fields or urban landscapes, just 30 minutes of exploring will be enough to discover preserved areas of natural beauty. So wherever possible, try to open up your doors to the environment and welcome the health benefits of nature into your routine!
When schedules are particularly busy and workdays become full, the first thing that drops off is the time we spend outdoors. When you power on through tasks inside however, you actually risk jeopardizing the quality of work through exhaustion. That’s why getting away from the desk for at least 30 mins each day becomes important. By scheduling nature breaks into your calendar alongside those work meetings and calls, you’ll soon value these chunks of time in your day as you create a more healthy work-style.
Along with bolstering mood or sustaining concentration, nature also helps to stimulate our creative mind. That’s why the most successful people will look to work amongst the great outdoors, using the benefits of nature to fuel their ideas. Creating a workspace outdoors will allow nature to enhance your artistic mind. Whether it’s a table in the garden or a public bench in the park, try to spend 30 minutes each day working outdoors and let it stimulate your creative drive.
Research has shown that the mood-boosting influence, restorative benefits and stress-reducing effects of nature, can all come from house plants too! Better still, our brains are hardwired to respond in these ways when simply viewing nature on our retinas. That means a picture, painting or colour pallet on your walls will even stimulate your mental wellbeing. Whether it’s sourcing pot plants, printing holiday photos or introducing greens or browns into the home, how are you decorating with nature?
Nature should not be seen as a luxury, it’s an essential tool for recharging our batteries, spawning ideas and keeping us performing at our best!
Blog Author: Ben Oliver - Thurs 3rd June 2021