Let’s lay out the perfect storm swirling around you:
- Americans are spending more time looking at screens than ever and glancing more often than ever.
- We’re working more than ever, too. (Which is literally killing us.)
- 87% of people are reading political posts at work and self-reporting a high degree of “political fatigue” as a result.
- We’re also talking politics at work more than ever before — leading to a sharp decline in productivity.
In an era when the passing of time seems to be marked by Tweet storms and politics bleeds into everything, workers are:
We need a break. A big 300 million person vacation to Canada to eat Nanaimo bars and admire Justin Trudeau’s abs. But of course that’s unrealistic, and not just because Nanaimo bars are local to Vancouver Island and Trudeau’s abs spend most of their time in Ottawa. There’s no giant pause button available in this life (even if it is a simulation) and therefore no mass-respite in sight.
Collectively speaking, every indicator is that this is our new reality. If one of the marks of a thriving democracy is that non-politicians can forget about the machinations of government for awhile, then we’re probably failing. At the moment, all statistics indicate that people don’t feel safe looking away.
That’s the macro viewpoint. But individually speaking, you need to disengage. At least for small snatches of time. For your sanity; for your health. You have to power down, close out, and turn off every single device you’ve got — even your pizza ordering sneakers. And when you take this time, when you break away from the media-internet-app-driven machine for just a few minutes, there are places to go for healing. Places that can help you recover, almost magically…
The outdoors. The thin spaces. The Badlands. The big sky country. The forest. The ocean. The desert.
You need a micro-adventure. You need a day trip. You need to hug a f*cking tree.
Let’s get all technical again, because plenty of odes to the natural world have been written and there’s no reason to write another until we’re sure everyone’s had a chance to read Edward Abbey. Let’s rely instead on data and studies to make this case — something which is shockingly easy because the positive relationship between our health & happiness and spending time in nature is possibly the most clear correlation in human existence.
Saying “being outdoors is good for you” is just as much of a given as “smoking 20 menthols a day isn’t so great” or “using meth has adverse effects on your skin care regimen.” A few examples:
- Increased outdoor recreation leads to decreased depression among seniors.
- People living in cities have been shown to be demonstrably happier when there’s green space nearby.
- Walking in nature improves both mood and self-esteem when compared to similar exertion in a non-natural environment. It also stops you from brooding.
- Furthermore, a 50-minute walk in an arboretum has been shown to improve short term memory and decrease feelings of depression.
- Gazing out the window at trees from a hospital bed even helps people heal faster.
But this is perhaps the best statistic of all and the best example of the dramatic — almost mystical — effect that the natural world has on us:
- Even just looking at photos of nature marks a decrease in stress and fatigue, and a “return to unaffected affective, cognitive and psychophysiological functioning.” Just. Looking. At. Photos.
And do you see the words in all those studies? Decreases in stress, fatigue, exhaustion, and depression. Increases in mood, self-esteem, and cognitive function. Basically, the world is conspiring to break you apart and nature is conspiring to put you back together. There is a reason that crime rates drop when there are trees around.
And you can do it. Our wild place are under threat, but they are still there. They exist to be visited (and are supported by your visitation). They are waiting to heal you. You don’t have to go for a week. You can get outside just for an afternoon.
“We are so fortunate in America,” Florence Williams, author of the The Nature Fix, said to National Geographic, “we have these incredible wilderness spaces and national parks and science is showing that when we spend time in those spaces, it can be tremendously helpful for our sense of self, for problem solving, social bonding, and rites of passage.”
In Japan, they take “forest baths” to help heal from fatigue. In Finland, they have a national recommendation on outdoor time. Here in the US, professors Tim Beatley and Tanya Denckla-Cobb at the University of Virginia have proposed a Nature Pyramid — just like the food pyramid, complete with serving sizes.
Sound silly? It might be if we were actually going outside on our own. But we’re not. We’re living with what researchers call a nature deficit. A deficit which is only expected to increase with more and more people moving into cities and less and less wild space available to us. In light of that, these reccomendations seem perfectly sensible. Like your doctor telling you not to ear bear claws two at a time.
So do it. Go out there. Step away from the news cycle. Because this is the era of burnout and immersing yourself in nature is the #1 best remedy. Put down the phone. There are mountains not far from here. Drive two hours. Less, maybe. There’s a swimming hole you can get to in an hour. And if you can’t do any of those things, for God’s sake look at some pictures.