Modern life: bustling traffic, advertisements, Times New Roman, social media; our attention is constantly being directed in urban settings. We are being pulled every which way by things begging for our attention and it has a devastating draining effect on our emotional health leading to brooding and ruminating on the causes of our problems rather than solutions. This is the basis of Attention Restoration Theory. The solution? Get some green time!
While urban life may be constantly directing our attention, between the morning news, the commute, work and meetings, our hobbies and home life, there is one place that isn’t: Nature.
Nature draws our attention in a way that is completely involuntary, effortlessly peaking our interest and curiosity. The difference, really the key here, is all in the brain. When we are making decisions, where to eat and when to meet, we are using our pre-frontal cortex. Urban life is constantly exercising our pre-frontal cortex and doesn’t allow much break time. Nature, on the other hand, allows us to relax that part of our brain.
Simple, right? Well, it gets better. You don’t need to leave it all behind and venture into the wilderness to experience these effects. A growing body of research in environmental psychology supports the idea that microbreaks can have much of the same impact, enhancing our short-term memory, social behavior, decision making ability, productivity and overall health.
Researchers recommend that placing nature imagery at your desk or in your office in a position that will allow you to take brief mental breaks to simply look. Not check your phone, not check that email that just pinged, but look. We can’t all go on weekend camping trips, but a 15-minute walk to start your day or as a mid-day break can revitalize you for the day ahead. We can’t all have windowed offices either. The solution? Bring the outdoors indoors with plant life and natural imagery. Some researchers recommend bringing your meeting outside, on the green or on a walk.
Next time you’re in a slump, can’t focus, or just need a break from it all, take a step outside and let nature take the wheel for awhile.