There’s no doubt that spending time in nature can lift your spirits and simply going for a walk in the park has been a big comfort to many of us during lockdown. To coincide with Stress Awareness Month, Rachel Ward Lilley discusses the health and wellbeing benefits of nature.
Have you been spending too much time in front of a screen during the pandemic? I certainly have. In fact, a new OFCOM report states that UK residents are generally spending record-breaking amounts of time online. Analysed by age-groups, the 18 to 25s are the heaviest users (no surprise there) but the over 54s show the biggest increase in time spent online, a whopping 24% more than the year before. Of course, it’s understandable given the constraints of lockdown, but we should not lose sight of the fact that it’s good for us to take a screen break and get out into the natural environment, an assertion that is backed up by ever more analysis from the scientific community.
So, as the season for outdoors fast approaches, let’s remind ourselves of the benefits of being in nature and schedule as much of it as possible into our routines. Here are five reasons to spend time in nature, be that a walk in a park or a week-long escape to the wilderness.
1. Increased attention. Nature calms our busy brains and makes focussing easier. Being around green spaces shows an increase in learning capacity, improved memory capacity and enhanced cognitive flexibility (Current Directions in Psychological Science).
2. Less stress. Being in nature can help lower the physiological effects of stress, such as heart rate and muscular tension. (Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P., & St Leger, L. (2006). Healthy nature healthy people).
3. Better moods. You can literally walk your way out of a grump in only ten minutes! Experiments compared groups who either walked in nature or viewed nature on a video and, while both groups recorded an increase in positive emotions, the effect was much more pronounced in the case of those who had the real outdoor experience. (Mayer, F.S., et al., Environment and Behaviour, 41, No. 5, 2009).
4. Less tired. An escape from the desk can perk up our energy levels. The feeling of being drained and tired that comes from long spells of desk work are soon dispelled by time spent in nature, where curiosity is stimulated, fascination stoked and physicality enhanced. Fatigue dissolves away when these stimuli apply. (Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P., & St Leger, L. (2006). Healthy nature healthy people).
5. Good for nature. When people connect with nature it’s great news for nature as well as for themselves. The more people care about and value their environment, the more likely they are to want to protect it. It’s a win-win situation! Wildlife Trust.
Most research so far has looked at the benefits of green spaces, but new studies are beginning to show similar results in relation to blue spaces – rivers, lakes and seas. Interaction with water can be as good or even better for both our physical and mental health. (Gascon, M., et al., International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, Vol. 220, No. 8, 2017.)
So, happy healthy outside times! I’m just off for a coastal walk and will lap up both the green and blue powers of Mother Nature.
Rachel Ward Lilley is a business and educational psychologist. She has worked for many years advising SMEs and her current work relates to issues of resilience, communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past 12 years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field. Find out more here.
If you have any thoughts, experiences, news or advice on workplace wellbeing that you would like to share, please see our submission page for more information.