It’s all too familiar, with a seemingly endless ‘To do’ list it’s hard to focus on the task at hand. The overwhelming phenomenon of cognitive gridlock, feeling stressed at work pushes us to plough on when we should be taking a break. Greenspace doesn’t even enter into our day, we’re fast becoming factory farmed humans. Just a few minutes of time outdoors, chilling out with Mother Nature could be exactly what we need.
A recent Lexis Nexis survey of 1700 workers found that employees spend over 50% of their day processing information rather than concentrating on their designated role. When we’re spending our time sorting and sifting through information before we even get down to the real work, there’s no wonder we’re stressed.
A University of California Irvine study revealed that being exposed to constant emails throughout the day increased the heart rate of those studied. Michael Posner, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregan states that when we are in such states of continued focus, our brains become fatigued and less effective. As the pressure mounts it seems counter intuitive to take a break. Instead we labour under the misconception that the harder we work, the more effective we’ll be. Not so. The longer our brains are switched to ‘on’ mode, the slower we get. Downtime replenishes both our bodies and our minds. But not just any old break will do. Greenspace, it seems, could be the answer.
Dr Marc Berman at the University of Michigan found that after a twenty minute walk, memory and attention improved by 20%. A twenty minute walk in a busy street resulted in no improvement. It seems not all downtime is created equally. Berman’s research also found that just sitting for ten minutes in a quiet room, looking at pictures of nature had a calming effect producing an increase in cognitive activity and performance.
And if you’re feeling cranky at work as a result of all that information overload, it seems that nature can also improve your mood. A study from the University of Rochester by Richard Ryan discovered that viewing nature had social benefits. Ryan’s research found that 370 test subjects exposed to natural as opposed to man-made environments encouraged people to “Value community and close relationships and to be more generous with money.” Making it worth taking your boss along for a walk if you’re considering asking for a raise.
Dr Ian Frampton at Exeter University found that when research participants were shown pictures of rural scenery the regions of the brain associated with calm were activated. Pictures depicting urban scenes did not produce the same response. Suggesting that when you can’t escape to your favourite greenspace there’s still a viable alternative to increase your ROI for downtime.
Not sure how to inject more nature inspired downtime into your working day?
Here are our top tips.
1. Recognise that you deserve and need a break. If you’re feeling overwhelmed remind yourself it will improve your performance (it won’t slow you down). Prioritise at least one time slot for natural downtime each day.
2. Go off grid. Switch off your electronic devices for the duration of your downtime for maximum impact.
3. Instead of eating lunch at your desk, find a green space nearby and take a quick walk or find a seat to take in the view.
4. Go green. Consider adding nature to your workspace. Think plants, pictures, photos or saved recordings for those times that you can’t physically get out into a natural environment, it’s the next best thing.
5. Unwind by journaling in nature. Find a balcony, garden or park and reflect. Jot down one or two lines about your day.
6. Shelve your mental ‘To do’ list and breathe. Sit in your greenspace, focus on the present moment listening to the sounds around you as you begin the relax. Spend time taking in the natural environment around you, really be in the moment as you sit and enjoy your green ‘me’ time.
At Positive Change Guru we work with individuals and organisations to build resilience and optimise performance. Check out our courses on the events page or contact us to talk about your training, consultancy or coaching needs.