With so much going on in our lives, many of us plan out every minute of our day: Wake up, work, go to the gym, come home, make dinner, work from home, try to spend some quality time with our families, go to sleep, repeat. Day after day we know what is important to live a healthy life and we are constantly working to juggle that with our daily responsibilities. But when our mental health starts to falter, it can be hard to check off everything on your To Do list.
How we can get more done while feeling less stressed, more fulfilled in our daily lives, and maintaining our overall health? The answer might be simpler than we think.
Try getting out more often. With most people living in urban environments, working in offices all day, and spending free time working out at the gym, it is not uncommon for our only time in nature to consist of the walk to the car. This may seem like a minor price to pay for living a full, busy life but the New York Times cites studies showing city dwellers have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illness than those who spend regular time outdoors.
By not spending enough time outdoors, we lose more than just our recommended daily intake of Vitamin D. Human beings have an inherent connection to nature and previous generations did not spend nearly as much time indoors. With modern technology, we can do nearly everything from the comforts of our own home but doing so could be detrimental to our health.
In a study done by Stanford University, Gregory Bratman and colleagues found that volunteers who walked through a green area of the campus showed a more focused and positive attitude afterward than volunteers who walked for the same amount of time near heavy traffic. The volunteers who had strolled through the calming natural parks also showed improvements in their mental health and were not dwelling on the negatives in their lives as much as they had been before the walk.
Getting into nature has major mental and physical health benefits for us, but don’t think of it as something else you have to add to your ever-growing To Do list. Many routine activities can simply be moved outdoors. Make the commute to work on your bike if possible, or take nightly walks around the neighborhood as a part of your post-dinner routine. On the weekends make time for a hike or picnic outdoors. Even just sitting on the porch for a while has its benefits.
It can be easy to become obsessed with reaching our goals and crossing tasks off lists, but a successful, healthy life is about balance. We should work towards the life we want and love, but not at the cost of our mental health. Start with half an hour every day spent in nature and try to write down how you feel before and after. Noting the lift in mood that the outdoors can have on you will help to continue the habit when it seems like the last thing you want to do. And eventually, your time in nature may be what you look forward to most every day.
Guest Blogger: Camila
Communication Major at the College of Charleston
Marketing Intern at Wellness Beyond Fifty