How can I fit more nature-time into my life?
So how could we fit spending time in nature into our already hectic schedules? Between getting the kids ready for school, going to work, and managing the household, there doesn’t seem to be much time to add yet another responsibility to the list. For the most part, we only need to reflect on our daily behaviours to see how we can incorporate more time in nature into our lives. James Clear, in his wildly popular book Atomic Habits (2018), suggests incorporating a budding habit into an existing habit.
So for instance, if you have a lunch break during the work day, you could spend it outside on a park bench instead of in the staff room. If you come home at the end of the day and like to sit on the couch with a book, go outside and sit on the grass instead. These are simply ways to adopt more nature-time into your life, without having to add another separate activity to your schedule. In a 2017 study (Austin, et al., 2017), some participants were asked to take a brief walk in nature once per day, and other participants weren’t. The results showed that those who walked daily had higher levels of positive emotions and well-being than those who walked less. It doesn’t take a lot of time to nourish our minds in the deep ways that only nature offers us, and it seems to be a worthwhile habit to form.
Making the time to experience nature is easy to ignore in lieu of more ‘important’ tasks. That walk in the park you planned on taking this afternoon suddenly seems overshadowed by a looming deadline or a sink full of dirty dishes. For this reason, it can be beneficial to keep yourself accountable by planning nature-time with other people. Planning to go for a walk with friends means there is a lower likelihood of cancelling. Better yet, if you can join a weekly community group or class of some sort then you won’t even have to continually plan your time in nature.
There are volunteer groups who aid revegetation in nature reserves, there are community gardens who need people to tend to plants and crops, and there are clean up groups who dispose of discarded rubbish in bush-lands. If volunteering isn’t appealing to you, then you could change your routine by canceling your gym membership in lieu of outdoor exercise classes or yoga, or even new activities like cycling or rowing. Making scheduled appointments to spend time in nature can assist those who have trouble achieving this with sheer willpower, and your mental health will thank you for it.
Our acknowledgment of the value of time spent in nature is growing each day, which is why more urban living environments are incorporating ‘green spaces’ into their design. Using the latest neuroscience research, we are able to determine which types of natural environments compliments our mental states the most effectively. For example, it has been found that areas with high levels of biodiversity can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depressions more-so than those with low levels of biodiversity (Wyles, et al., 2019). Similarly, people who watched videos featuring a diverse array of flora and fauna reported lower anxiety and higher vitality than those who watched videos of less biodiverse landscapes (Wolf, et al., 2017).
Findings like these offer valuable insight into how we can engineer our surroundings to best facilitate the highest levels of wellbeing possible. It is clear that spending time in nature is invaluable for our mental health, but a half-hour lunch break doesn’t give us time to go hiking through a biodiverse mountain landscape; what we can do, however, is have access to green spaces which replicate the stimulus that we would receive if we were in nature. This has proven to be an eloquent solution to the pressing issue of depression rates in urban CBD areas (Ebata & Izenstark, 2017).