Why is time spent in nature an important part of our human nature?
Green dewy grass. Towering Trees. Babbling brooks. Falling leaves. Over the past year, getting out into nature has been a welcome respite from the confines of our own homes (aka makeshift office spaces). For both the city-dwellers and countryfolk among us, daily walks (ok, well almost daily…) have been the one constant in a year where it feels like everything else fun has been put on hold. Whilst we may have begrudged feeling our fingers freeze off in order to sip lukewarm tea on park benches in February – for many of us, there remains an undeniable benefit to getting out into the green. So why does time spent in nature leave us feeling so good (despite our cool extremities)?
We know it, spending time in nature feels good- it doesn’t take a genius (ahem) to work out that exercising more and spending time away from screens is good for us. What we might be less familiar with are the mood benefits that come from time spent in nature specifically (and no trampling grass at the local pub ‘garden’ probably doesn’t count):
Time spent in nature improves our creativity (and our attention)
Next time you’re making a case to move weekly meetings to the park across your office, pull out this gem! A 2012 study by Cognitive Scientist Dr Strayer, revealed that a group of hikers could solve significantly more puzzles requiring creative thought, compared to a control group. Surely, that’s just the endorphins from the exercise (I hear your boss protest)- well, actually no. Other studies have shown that the natural environment itself is key for restoring our attention and focus (which we know is negatively affected by the tech-induced information overload we experience after a day spent staring at our screens). See you in the park then, boss!
The more green we are exposed to, the less stressed we feel
Relatedly, because natural environments are so damn beautiful- spending time in them restores our attention in a gentle, yet significant, way. There are no tinny bleeps, or unnerving alarms demanding we drop what we’re doing to breathe in the trees, they’re just there- and the awesomeness of them, allows us respite from the more artificial demands placed on our attention. So, whether you live near Snowdonia, or you’re stuck in suburbia with a few blossom trees- try finding a natural source of beauty to help deescalate stress after you’ve filled in your tax returns.
Natural environments make us more empathetic
Wait, what? Yeah, we promise- it’s not just a catchy headline. The science shows there’s a correlation between increased exposure to nature and people being more helpful and generous. One study revealed that the more awe-struck we feel by the natural beauty in front of us, the more likely we are to be helpful and ethical when it comes to moral dilemmas. The why behind the how, might be more difficult to explain – but if you’re looking to work through some sticky issues with your colleagues, why not try walking and talking it out? The trees are on your side.
The great outdoors: As if we needed another incentive to strap on our wellies and make the most of the British summer- now we can get out confident that we’re not only improving our own wellbeing- but surely using it to be more kind, present and calm with those we love too!