A few months before the pandemic turned our already stressful lives upside-down, Scientific Reports (2019) published a study findings that time in “green spaces” can significantly increase people’s sense of happiness and well-being. This adds to an already large body of evidence that time in nature is essential to our wellbeing (Robins, 2020). The study suggests that those who spent at least two hours in nature a week reported the most benefits. Two hours seems like a lot for busy people, but it breaks down to only about 17 minutes per day. As we battle with Covid, the CDC (2021) has also recommended that gatherings and activities be held outdoors as much as possible.
As therapists, we often come across people who struggle to balance their needs with the time they have. Adding “time outdoors” to an ever-growing list of tasks may seem impossible. But with a little creativity, it’s possible to incorporate access to nature into your everyday life. Here are some things to try:
Create a green space in your home
This may be the easiest way to gain access to the natural world. There are many house plants that are inexpensive and require minimal care. Even a small corner or an apartment can become a natural oasis. Placing a bird feeder in a window can bring a variety of wildlife into your world with very little effort. Caring for plants and animals can give an added boost to your mood.
Spend just a few minutes on your doorstep or near an open window
You may not have time for long hikes or camping weekends, but you can take advantage of moments that already exist in your day. When you go from your home to your car, take a moment for a few deep breaths of fresh air. Tell yourself to notice something new every day, such as a tree, a nest, or new growth. Purposely place your work desk or other furniture near a window so you can take a moment for fresh air and noticing whenever your day allows for it. These brief minutes quickly add up.
Take your lunch outside
Or any meal, really. Eating outdoors or using part of your lunch break for a short walk could potentially add hours to your “nature cache” of time. If you work near a park, all the better, but you don’t have to completely immerse yourself to gain benefits of outdoor time. If the weather isn’t cooperating, find a space near a window to enjoy natural light while you eat and get some time away from your desk.
If you commute, learn your route
If you commute by car, chances are that there is a spot along your route where you can stop and take a “nature moment”. If you can do so safely, a brief break in your drive can bring invigorating results. Perhaps there is a rest stop or park where you can stop, take some deep breaths, or eat a snack. Transitions between work and home are ideal times to take a moment for yourself.
Take a short walk- and bring your friends or family
Walks are a great way to connect with friends and family and they don’t need to be long or involved for you to experience the benefits. Remember that 17 minutes a day? Incorporating a short walk into your routine can provide all that time easily. You can also step outside for a brief walk while taking a call or jaunt around the block during a break in your day.
Make outdoor time entertaining
If time outdoors seems boring to you or you’d like to motivate family to get involved, there are a number of apps and activities designed to make nature accessible to everyone. Stargazing apps, for instance, bring the night sky to life. There are apps to identify birds and plant life you come across. Games like Pokemon Go can motivate the whole family to get outdoors. If you want to level up, explore the world of geocaching – exciting treasure hunts supported by a fun community of adventurers.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Participate in Indoor and Outdoor Activities. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/outdoor-activities.html
Robins, Jim (2020). Ecopsychology: How immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health. Yale Environment 360. https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health.
White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3