This week (10th – 17th May 2021) is Mental Health Awareness week, organised each year by the Mental Health Foundation and this year’s them is “Nature”. The benefits on our mental health of connecting with nature have been well documented and so to mark the occasion, and with, you, our reader in mind, we wanted to share some of the benefits of connecting with nature on your lunch break.
The Importance of Taking Regular Breaks
The pressure to contribute the best of ourselves in the workplace is felt by most of us, and organisations and managers are increasingly recognising the need to ensure that the working environment enables people to do this.
One way of enabling this is to ensure that people can take ample breaks during their working day, because when people are supported to take regular breaks from their work, it enables them to balance their physical and mental wellbeing and in effect to contribute the best of themselves to their colleagues, their work and the organisation.
The benefits of taking regular breaks
Firstly, moving our bodies is good for us physically as it improves circulation, amongst other vital physical functions (you can read more about the benefits of movement here).
Ceasing thinking, concentrating and decision making for a short period of time, is also good for our brain as it reduces decision-fatigue, restores clarity and motivation and improves creativity and productivity.
The Benefits of Connecting with Nature
The benefits of connecting with nature on our mental wellbeing are becoming increasingly known and understood – it has been shown to have a positive impact on our nervous, endocrine, and immune systems, and also our mood.
Studies have found that even small interactions with nature have a significant positive impact on our mental health.
Well, if you think about it, in primitive times, we literally spent all of our time in nature. It’s only relatively recently that humans have had to adapt to living in an urban environment.
It would therefore make sense that spending significant amounts of time away from nature might impact our wellbeing negatively.
Researchers have tried to find out what the minimum exposure time might be for us to make the most of the associated benefits of nature on our mental wellbeing. A study in 2019 found that having contact with nature for at least 120 minutes a week was associated with good health or well-being.
They also found that between 200 and 300 minutes a week was the optimum amount of time for us to be in contact with nature.
When we break that down, this could simply mean using 30 minutes of our daily lunchbreak to spend time in nature.
How to Connect with Nature on Your Lunchbreak
There are various ways that we can connect with nature on our lunchbreak:
- Watering the office plants
- Sitting near a window if you’re not able to get outside
- Eating your lunch outside in a courtyard or local green space
- Going for a lunchtime walk
Even if your work is located in a built-up urban area, you might be surprised by the signs of nature that you seen on a lunchtime walk once you start looking for them – window boxes, hanging baskets, raised flower beds, trees, and even communal gardens and parks.
What are the Benefits of Connecting with Nature on your Lunchbreak?
Spending time in green spaces or connecting with nature has been shown to reduce the risk of developing mental health problems. Below are some of the reasons why:
It provides us with an opportunity to notice and reflect on our natural surrounds, reminding us that there are other things going on around us, that are not related to our work and giving our brain the downtime it needs to do some all-important background processing.
This practice of mindfully focusing on our surroundings, using all of senses, has been found to reduce feelings of stress and increase feeling of self-compassion and empathy, enabling us to cope better with stress and interact more positively with our colleagues when we return to work.
It provides us with the opportunity to move more in our working day – particularly important for those with a sedentary desk job. Whether we’re just walking backward and forward to a picnic spot or going for a longer walk, this extra movement bring its own benefits with it, including reducing anxiety and improving mood, memory and concentration.
Our brain was not designed to be in a state of constant focused concentration. We have the capacity to be productive and focused for approximately 90 minutes at a time. When we step away from work and break focused attention, we give our brain a well-needed break, increasing our ability to concentrate and focus when we return to work, and increase our productivity.
Many people find that spending time in nature inspires creativity, whether that’s drawing, photography, music or writing. Studies have found that spending less time on electronic devices and more time outside improves our ability to problem-solve too.
- Connecting with Others
Having positive interactions and healthy, supportive relationships is key for our mental wellbeing, and this is equally as important when we are at work. Taking our lunchbreak away from our desk, in green spaces provides the opportunity for us to interact with our work colleagues away from the workplace in a more informal setting, building stronger relationships.
There are many benefits of connecting with nature in our working day, all of which have a positive impact on our ability to cope with the pressures of work and our work performance.
This can be as easy as spending 30 minutes of your daily lunchbreak connecting with nature, either inside or outside of your workplace. When we combine this with time spent on the commute or our days off, we can easily start to work toward that optimum 200-300 minutes connecting with nature per week.
How will you connect with nature on your lunchbreak this week?
Our two hour course, Physical Activity for enhanced Resilience, explores this topic further, looking at the importance of physical activity for our wellbeing and the impact it has on our mental health.
The course also provides participants with the tools and knowledge to review their own physical activity status and habits, and create a plan to confidently improvement their level of physical activity and to enhance their personal resilience and performance.