Spending time in nature has benefits to mental health

by Lindsey Anderson , Contributor

I recently saw a post on LinkedIn that added a refreshing take to our digital normalities. 

The author of the post introduced the idea that Zoom is not the only platform in which remote work can successfully be conducted. Instead, the author utilizes a telephone platform and chooses to send meeting invites with a phone number in place of a Zoom link.

In doing so, the author of the posting demonstrates his newfound flexibility.

He can now hold meetings over the phone and can take them with him wherever he goes. This flexibility is then executed by taking his meetings on a walk outside, boosting an otherwise exhausting activity by introducing the presence of fresh air.

The author expresses a newfound enthusiasm for attending his meetings as he has found a way to efficiently connect with the outdoors — an activity that has been sacrificed due to the demands of work and school.

But some sacrifices are foolishly made, and our waning time in the great outdoors is one of them.

Several hours of class time spent indoors coupled with additional hours of homework completed the same way means the majority of our time spent as students is undertaken inside.

Weekends aren’t much different. 

Coffee shops, thrift stores and bars — the most frequented weekend sites for students — are all consistent with indoor activity. The socializing that complements these activities is critical to our overall well-being, but the lack of fresh air leaves a gap in our mental and physical fulfillment.

Fresh air has been linked to increased health and happiness, especially in individuals who spend at least 120 hours a week outdoors. Consistent immersion in nature can also serve as a blanket on the mind; calming stress, slowing thoughts and alleviating anxiety. As stress levels decrease, energy and mental sharpness are increased as fresh air and sunlight act as a stimulus to our consciousness. 

With levels of stress and anxiety only increasing in students, time spent outside may be more important now than ever. Plus, the cognitive kick nature provides is especially beneficial to students as we embark on the home stretch into finals season. 

But the increased workload that comes with finals insinuates that little free time will be found. Thus, we must make a conscious effort to prioritize our outdoor escape.

Now this doesn’t mean we need to be backpacking junkies or avid climbers to get our outdoor fix; the method can be much simpler than such activities. Starting with a walk every morning will kick start fresh air immersion in an attainable manner, whilst reaping the same benefits of extensive nature exposure (just make sure some trees are present where you choose to walk).

Taking your reading from the bed to the park is also an excellent way to spend some time in nature, especially if you can find a grassy spot under the sun. While you’re there, take a few moments to listen to the birds, watch the animals and smell the earth, allowing your brain to temporarily settle down and embrace some TLC. 

You’ll return to your schoolwork feeling refreshed and with noticeable improvements in your focus, your performance and your overall satisfaction with your work. 

Not only will your end result be more successful but the process of getting it done won’t be such a drag. That exposure to fresh air will give you just the kick you didn’t know you needed.   

Soon, your immersive outdoor experience will become the most sacred part of your day and you will find yourself prioritizing this time in ways you never have before.  

As someone who has found immense solace in nature, I will leave you with a guiding principle from zen meditation: “You should sit in nature for 20 minutes a day… unless you’re busy, then you should sit for an hour.” 

Lindsey Anderson is a senior studying rhetoric and writing.