Do you ever feel the need for a ‘break’ from information overload such as social media or news? When you go for a stroll on the beach or a hike in the forest do you instantly feel at ease? According to new scientific research, there’s a reason for that.
Mental fatigue is a serious issue and poses real risks to our health. Among others, sleep deprivation is known to carry the same level of distraction as someone who is intoxicated. Texting while driving, being constantly tied to our smart devices, or working long hours all play a dangerous role in grabbing our attention and keeping it. Conversely, improved cognitive function heightens our senses. When going for a walk or on a camping trip, it is not uncommon to suddenly “see” or “hear” or “smell” things that you would otherwise overlook in an urban setting. This is because nature acutely responds to our senses. It forces our brain to open up to various stimuli.
As we go about our lives, overworked and ever tuned into our gadgets we begin to replace what is natural to man instead with multimedia that offer little value in the area of wellness.
Time to Connect With Nature
Numerous studies have been conducted showing a link to higher anxiety or stress when in an urban setting compared to lower stress levels when in a natural setting such as a lush park or forest. Research has also revealed a lower brain function when induced to devices such as smartphones and tablets for an extended period. Over time, this can have damaging effects on the other cognitive parts of our brains due to degradation -- a decrease in use of certain parts of our brain when other parts are more heavily favored. Similar to exercise, it is not conducive to focus on only one area of the body, for the rest of the body suffers. So too is the need to strengthen all areas of the brain to obtain the most significant health and function. Further, connecting to nature doesn’t necessarily equate to a walk in the park. Even opening a window that overlooks a park-like setting can help to reduce stress.
A groundbreaking 2015 Stanford University study actually showed marked differences in the brain when in natural settings. Improved memory, increased levels of concentration, and even higher test scores nearly doubled when a person was exposed to nature. Another bonus? Exposure to nature boosts your mood.
MIND, a mental health organization based in the UK conducted a study among participants who suffered from varying levels of depression and found that over 70 percent had decreased levels of sadness following a nature walk.
What is still uncertain is how much exposure to nature is considered the “right amount” to curb stress levels, but more is better. Hikers who spent on average four days outside were among those who participated in the 2015 study resulting in higher levels of concentration and test scores.
Japan is an innovative, forward thinking society with technological advances that the world carefully watches and mimics. But, behind this powerhouse is a disturbing phenomenon: nearly one fifth of workers are at an increased risk of death due to being overworked. Overworking, or working prolonged hours with little time for breaks is quite common in the tiny country where nearly 70 million people as of 2010 comprised the Japanese workforce. In fact, there’s a term for this stark culture and it’s known as Karoshi (death from overwork). Although labor laws imply that anyone who works over 40 hours per week are entitled to overtime pay, the reality is that it’s not uncommon to have workers clocking in 60 hours or more in a week. This leaves very little time to rest and recharge especially when other priorities demand our attention. Thankfully, legislation is underway, imposing steep fines for companies who overwork their employees resulting in physical injury or death.
How To Incorporate Nature Into Our Everyday Lives
Most of us live in urban settings or close to them. City dwellers are bombarded with convenient amenities that make rural living seem confined. An escape every so often to a forest or undisturbed natural setting is key to a better well-being. If an escape such as this proves too far, a stroll in the park during lunch breaks or after work can be just as good.
Planting a small garden can also bring nature closer to home. This is why gardening is so therapeutic for many because it ties us with the natural way of life.
There are a number of tree planting initiatives among communities who seek a greener urban life. Participating in organized events offers an opportunity to engage while promoting wellness.
The important point to remember is that disconnecting from technology and the pressures of city life on a regular basis is key to maintaining proper mental health.