How the Outdoors Boosts Our Mental Health
Tourists, friends, college students, artists, and free spirits immerse themselves in Washington Square Park on a random fall afternoon. I begin to lounge against the steps directly across from the park’s trademark fountain, hoping the mist will trickle my way.
The air is filled with purpose and the city’s energy is vibrant. I mumble profanity under my breath that this is, shamefully, my first trip here. (I’m a native New Yorker, so there’s no excuse, really.)
I smile to myself as I see others reading and getting lost in their work, or as I observe two little ones reaching out over the water’s edge to search for copper coins. Then there are those who are simply sunbathing on the grassy grounds, while succumbing to a state of relaxation. I can sense that this is a place where my own stressors can evaporate, which brings me to the point:
Being outside, even if in an urban setting, can only benefit our mental health.
According to an article on the website Grok Your World, a large percentage of people spend most of their time inside. Adults and children spend eight to ten hours in work or school, leaving them with little opportunity at the end of the day to enjoy the outdoors.
The article emphasizes the notion that the outdoors improves our overall mindset. “Even if you don’t have hours to spend outside, taking 15 minutes to step outside and take a few deep breaths can greatly help clear your mind and relax your body. Being in the sunshine, even if only for a few minutes, helps the body absorb vitamin D from the sun, which is known to help improve the mind.”
Professor Jules Pretty, who teaches on the subject of environment and society at the University of Essex, noted that human beings were designed to spend time outdoors.
“For 300,000 generations, humans were hunter-gatherers and farmers,” he says. “Yet for the last six to eight generations, we have been living in an increasingly industrialized world. The disconnection from nature is deeply felt.”
He advocates that spending a mere five minutes outdoors can almost immediately lift your spirits. “That small amount of time makes more sense when you see it in the context of where people are coming from — stepping outside from a stressful day, for example.”
Here are some ideas for getting in your dose of nature, even briefly:
- Take a five-minute break from the office. Even though “smoke breaks” have fallen out of favor, that doesn’t mean you can’t still use the time to soak up a little sun.
- If you must work, or if you’re a freelancer who isn’t tied to a cubicle, find an outdoor wi-fi connection. (They do exist, often even in parks and other places you wouldn’t expect.)
- Find a way to take a walk, whether over lunch or before or after work. Walking is a great way to discover your neighborhood — you miss a lot when you’re zipping past it in a car. And you don’t have to do it in big chunks. Even 10 minutes three times a day (like, hmm, before and after work and during lunch) counts.
I’ve now found myself sitting on a stoop on Christopher Street, overlooking West Village’s tree-lined streets and beautiful apartments, with a quaint flower shop and a small, Italian café nearby. I’ll have to take the train back home soon, but I don’t want to go inside just yet.
Suval, L. (2012). How the Outdoors Boosts Our Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 27, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/10/17/how-the-outdoors-boosts-our-mental-health/