Frequent interruptions produce a lot of difficulties in taking the best decisions. But, there are many techniques that could increase your clarity, and in many cases, these are easy to apply. Getting out into nature could be part of the answer.
Have you ever come home from a day in the country and felt better? Mood altered, anxiety soothed, mind hushed? It seems obvious that getting out of the clanging grind of the city occasionally, might be good for your mental health, but recently, scientists have been working out whether flowers, grass, trees, and wild animals could be used to treat depression or anxiety.
The field of ecotherapy —the idea of connecting to nature to aid your well-being, isn’t new. In his 1984 book Biophilia, Edward O. Wilson put forward a theory that the affiliation we have with nature is rooted in our biology and genetics. Around the same time Wilson was writing, Japanese doctors began to prescribe forest bathing for optimum health. In Norway, 19th-century poet Henrick Ibsen coined the word “friluftsliv”—meaning “open-air living,” which soon turned into a Scandinavian cultural phenomenon.
We are spending more time indoors and online, but it is suggested that nature can help our brain and bodies to stay healthy. People report that they feel significantly happier outdoors than they do indoors, yet we spend less than 5 percent of our waking hours in nature. These results are worrying yet unsurprising. The great irony, of course, is that while we’re hardly experiencing nature, we need it now perhaps more than ever.
Burnout is a costly menace: The combination of increasing global competition, digital devices that compel us to be online 24/7is leaving us feeling down, distressed, and disengaged. Anxiety, Depression and symptoms of burnout or compassion fatigue are on the rise.
We all make tens of decisions each day, but during the day we might reach decision fatigue. Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket. No matter how rational you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue – you’re not consciously aware of being tired – but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually, your brain looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless, to act impulsively instead of expending the energy. The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonising over decisions, avoid any choice.
Being in nature decreases stress – walking in forests has been shown to lower heart rates, improve mood and create less anxiety. It has been hypothesised that even just looking out a window onto a natural scene can have similar effects.
Nature not only makes us subjectively feel better, but it also alters our biology, measurably subduing our fight-or-flight stress response. When you consider the deep history of our species, this makes sense. Modern urban living — and all the digital technologies that accompany it — are relatively new phenomena for us sapiens. People report that they feel significantly happier outdoors than they do indoors, yet we spend less than 5 percent of our waking hours in nature.
Consider research from Japan, where scientists have taken hundreds of individuals on “forest walks,” or leisurely strolls through lush green spaces, and measured a variety of bioindicators related to stress before and after. They have found that, compared to urban walks, forest walks have a significantly more positive effect: They reduce cortisol levels, diminish sympathetic nerve activity, and decrease both blood pressure and heart rate.
Nature can also boost our creativity and capacity to think clearly. Even so, it seems the evidence is mounting that nature could be a promising treatment for much of what ails us — affecting both how we think and how we feel.
If you are in the middle of a project that requires decisions and clarity, a short walk could be helpful. If next to your office you can find a park, that’s even better. This refocus from your problems will give you the possibility to see solutions from a different perspective.
Also, a simple walk in the park could be the step back that you need to see the big picture of the day, on your tasks and projects. It’s easy to get distracted by technology, meetings and to forget that you really need that you need a break to have a better focus on what matters.
And if the nature of your job doesn’t allow you to go for walks, you should use at least weekends to reconnect with nature, relax and disconnect from any device that requires your full attention.
Though the question of exactly how much time one ought to spend in nature is up for debate, research from Finland suggesting at least 5 hours per month. The more time you spend in nature, the better off you’ll be, and more is generally better. Same goes for the intensity of the experience.
How to get more nature into your day
- Change your screensaver to flash images of nature.
- Make a nature walk, hike, or run a part of your regular weekend routine.
- Take nature vacations. Hiking and/or camping are some of the lowest-cost, highest-fun trips there are!
- When you’re in nature, ditch your digital devices. The quality of your experience soars when you leave your smartphone behind.
Enjoying the outdoors also gives us a break from technology and the daily busyness. When we are outside we have a clearer more focused mindset to hang out with friends/family or spend some quality time by ourselves or with a pet.
I believe that meditation, mindfulness and being out in nature are all simple but effective ways to calm overactive minds. Relaxing my body and calming my mind are the two things that without fail get me out of my head and help me feel calmer and happier.