How do you relax and unwind when you’ve been focusing for a prolonged period of time on a project or studying for a big exam? Many people grab a large latte and figure the caffeine will re-energize them. That usually backfires. The caffeine dehydrates you and depletes your adrenals so you end up with less energy and focus. Sometimes we just opt to push ourselves to keep going and at times that may work out ok.
One of the most effective ways to truly give your brain a much needed break and refresh yourself is to spend some time in nature. Take even a short walk in the fresh air among trees and plants and studies showed that performance on memory and attention tests improved by 20%. When people took a short walk down a busy city street there was no boost in brain power.
What if you are in the middle of a big city? Then what? Researchers did a follow up study and had participants take a break for 10 minutes in a quiet room to look at pictures of a nature scene. Again, they found that cognitive performance improved after the nature break, even though it was only on paper! Even though the boost wasn’t as great as when participants actually took the walk among the trees, it was more effective than walking on a busy city street.
If you’re wondering why this is so, the researchers concluded that you exercise different types of attention when walking through nature and on a busy city street. When you have to be aware of crosswalks, pedestrians and traffic, this is directed attention, which can be depleted. When you are walking in nature, you engage involuntary attention, which doesn’t require intense focus. We can relax, talk, notice the trees and landscape and just enjoy the walk. It is refreshing.
So I would recommend making up a folder or booklet of nature pictures you especially love or create an album online and when you can’t get out in nature for a break, take a 10 minute nature break wherever you are and reap the benefits!
(Thank you Debbie Wilson for reading the previous post and asking the question that led to researching this post!)
How does spending time in nature affect you?
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