Guest post by author Sue Thomas
Most of us enjoy connecting with nature now and again, whether it’s tending your indoor plants, or digging the garden, or taking country walks. But did you know that contact with nature has been shown to provide measurable benefits like reduced stress, improved concentration, lower heart rate, and a general rise in wellbeing?
As a result, many large companies are investing in ways to bring nature into the workplace. Corporate offices now boast ‘green walls’ dripping with plants in offices which also make use of materials like wood, stone, and natural fabrics. If space allows, they also provide outdoor gardens and walking trails, and water features are very popular too. They don’t do this out of the kindness of their hearts, but because evidence shows that nature in the workplace boosts productivity and employee wellness.
However, biophilic design, as it is called, is not just for big companies. People who work at home and in nomadic workspaces like cafes and libraries can also benefit from paying attention to nature. And the good news is that connecting with nature does not mean you have to disconnect from your phone or laptop.
You can have both! Here are three ways to boost your connection with the natural world:
1. Calculate your daily dose of nature
Contact with nature is now seen as so valuable that psychologists are trying to identify the optimum daily dose so they can prescribe it to their patients. But you can work out your own. How many minutes do you spend every day either outdoors in nature or indoors working with natural materials or plants? Only count the moments when you are actually aware of your surroundings! For example, in a ten minute walk to the shops or school, do you look down at your phone or up at the trees? Are you deep in thought, or enjoying peeking into your neighbours’ gardens? When you’ve added up your current daily dose, make a plan to improve it. Be more mindful of the world around you. Touch it, smell it, see it. Every minute increases your daily dose!
2. Get some nature through your screen
Research shows that subjects who viewed natural scenes through windows, in pictures, and on video, had better concentration and lower heart and blood pressure rates than those who viewed urban and industrial images. More recently it seems that the same applies to nature experienced via computer screens. Ah, so that’s why we love sharing sunsets on Facebook! It’s no coincidence that so many of us choose nature photos for our screen wallpapers - waterfalls, tropical islands, forests, blue skies… such images soothe us when we log on and spin across our screen savers when we’re taking a break. And if you’re a gamer, you might choose to relax by wandering in exotic landscapes, or even playing simple games like FarmVille, where harvesting your own tomatoes and tending virtual chickens has been known to greatly reduce stress at the end of a busy day.
3. Bring nature into your workspace
As mentioned above, biophilic design in the workplace is increasingly popular. To get some ideas on how you might apply it, just google the term and browse through the ideas. Simple ways to do it include making sure plants are nearby and/or on your desk; rearranging the furniture to bring more sky and greenery into your window view, and consciously spending your thinking time in a green space. Try to use natural materials in your workspace, such as a wooden mouse, keyboard, or phone charging pad. Have a small bowl of interesting stones and shells to turn over between your fingers now and again while you’re reading, struggling with a problem, or just plain weary. And if you like to get away from home to work, why not seek out locations which offer a biophilic environment? In the summer, you could work in the garden, in the park, even halfway up a mountain! In the winter, look for cosy green cafes, libraries, museums, art galleries. In fact my local garden centre has a great cafe with free wifi and an enormous collection of greenery to wander through when my brain gets tired!
If this makes sense to you, and you’d like to bring more nature into your working life, do check out my book ‘Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age’. You’ll find more about the research behind digital wellbeing plus fifty tips and tricks to help you achieve it. Good luck!
Sue Thomas has been writing about cyberspace for over 20 years. She lives by the sea on the south coast of England. Her latest book, ‘Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age: How to feel better without logging off’ is available in paperback and Kindle. www.suethomas.net Twitter: @suethomas