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Bringing nature into your workday: how a perspective shift can really benefit you
Published 01 Dec 21. 4 minute read

 

Connecting with nature doesn’t mean ‘getting away from it all’ to boost your health. Vhi Health Coach Dr Mou Sultana explains how simple mindset shifts and making the most of daily transitions can give you a workday refresh…

We’ve experienced a remarkable amount of change in our working lives – and to our work environments – in recent years. One obvious symptom of “always-on” culture is that it’s difficult to disconnect. Working from home sometimes means ‘living from work’ and bringing work stress into our traditional sanctuaries.

Luckily, there are still places where we can find relief. Nature is a release mechanism for people, giving us the kind of sensory stimulation we crave: the light, colours, sounds and smells of green spaces act as a kind of readymade “sensory bath” to put us at ease. While heading out into the middle of nowhere at the drop of a hat isn’t a realistic option for most of us, there are ways we can tap into nature in our everyday environments. But how effective is it?

The science behind nature’s positive impact

Just 15 to 30 daily minutes of natural light can improve your sleep and boost your mood. On the other hand, not getting enough sunlight during the day can disrupt sleep patterns at night, leaving you feeling groggy or irritable in work.

Meanwhile, when you embrace a natural environment, you’re letting your nervous system know that it’s time to “rest and digest”. Your heart rate and blood pressure fall, as your body enjoys an overall wave of calm. It’s the same kind of relief and relaxation you feel after danger has passed.

Even having the right view from your desk can improve wellbeing. And it doesn’t have to be out the window! Simply looking at an image of, say, a green meadow for 40 seconds can shift your brain into a more relaxed mode. The other senses play their part too, with the sound of running water and smell of forests shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure.

Find head space in your workspace

Don’t pick up that trowel just yet: getting nature at work doesn’t mean surrounding your desk with a forest of potted plants – though whatever makes your workspace more comfortable is, of course, recommended.

Instead, a shift in mindset alone can prompt you to seek out nature during the workday. Here’s one tactic you can put into practice right away.

If you feel screen fatigue setting in, go to a window and find the horizon. Softly focusing on the horizon for a period of time and working on your breathing can help.

Making time for mindful moments

What you’re aiming to do is find time to listen to the birds, the leaves blowing in the wind. These natural cues engage our senses and help us recentre in much the same way as mindfulness practices on meditation apps.

We are lucky in Ireland to have such an urban-rural mix, so hopefully you have access to some form of green space. Then make a concerted effort to plan your breaks. You really only need a few lunchtime minutes to go for a walk. This could be strolling somewhere new to get your sandwich, rather than eating at your desk.

Using nature as a ‘transition’

With home working we’ve been losing those “refresh” moments, where we have a bit of ceremony as we enter and leave home and work environments. There are conscious things you can do to make nature the focus of those moments.

Think of your commute as a way to de-stress. Mindful walking is an easy way to do it. Put your phone on silent – and put it away! Then, become aware of what’s going on around you. Tell yourself what you are seeing, hearing and smelling. Connect with those sensations and embrace the moment. When you’re truly engaged, stresses will start to melt away.

Want to go one step further?  Grab a handful of small pebbles. Put them in your pocket and have each represent an issue in your work-life. Then, as you move, start to drop them along your path. Pebbles can also be a reminder of nature, touching them can remind you of being at peace, in a safe space, especially when you’re in the hustle and bustle. If you’re willing to give it a go, it can be genuinely effective in helping you shed baggage and let nature take care of it.

Factoring nature into your free time

If the workday isn’t presenting the right opportunities, there might be proactive things you can do at the weekend. This could be as simple as swapping time in front of the TV for leisurely hikes or other activities that meet your exercise needs in a green space.

Just taking the dog for a walk can help us escape our stresses and get into that natural, “in the moment” space where our senses are fully engaged with the world around us, even if it’s an urban setting.

We might not always be able to control our environment, but we can control how we respond to it. Starting with that mindset shift, you’ll soon realise that the benefits of nature are closer than you think. They’re just waiting for you to get engaged.

This content is for information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your GP or an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your health, or before commencing a new healthcare regime. If you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency call 999 / 112 or seek emergency assistance immediately.

Meet our Vhi Verified Expert

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Dr Mou Sultana

Vhi Health Coach

Chartered Psychologist and Psychotherapist

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