It’s early January in 2021. I’ve been cooped up inside for what seems like a decade, due to the weather, working remotely and avoiding social gatherings. Every day is blurs-day. I don’t know where the weekend starts and ends and I have this horrible habit of starting work earlier and earlier — like 6 AM early. Might as well start work because it’s not like I’m going to binge Netflix at 6 AM on a Wednesday. The borderless day bleeds into weeks, months and seasons slip by unnoticed. I feel like this is my new reality.
I realized after reading the incredibly insightful book, Burnout, that I really need to get outside more often. I needed to actively look for ways to close my stress cycle and getting outside was the best way to reset my body and well-being. Once I read the book, it seemed like articles started showing up in my news feed that espoused the benefits of getting outside.
5 reasons to get outside:
This is a Japanese concept. As written in Ask the Scientists, “Long before smartphones and self-driving cars, Japan deemed ‘forest bathing’ an essential part of its national health program. With forest bathing, the soaking isn’t literal. Bathing takes on a new meaning—immersing yourself in the natural environment.” So in 1982, folks in Japan realized the benefits of taking a nature bath by simply getting outside in nature. I have a few choices about where I take a walk, several are through a neighborhood of homes and two choices are in an actual forest. While I feel better after both walks, the one through the trees feels more restorative. I can’t take a forest bath on my couch — I need to get outside.
As temperatures started to drop here in Eastern North Carolina back in November, I started blowing off going for a walk with my dog. “It’s too cold. I don’t know where my gloves are. It’s so much easier to stay inside.” Then I read an article called “How to Embrace the Joys of Winter This Year” and read that Kari Leibowitz, a Stanford University interdisciplinary graduate fellow in psychology, recently spent a year in Norway’s Arctic city of Tromsø. Folks in Tromsø have really low rates of seasonal affective disorder. “Mindsets don’t just shape what we think; they also shape what we do,” Leibowitz explains. “If you have the mindset that winter is full of opportunity, then you’re more likely to look for those opportunities.” I needed to start looking for opportunities instead of dismissing the temperature outside as a hinderance. I have to say that although the trees don’t have leaves, the winter light is amazing and the temperature is invigorating. I’m embracing winter and getting outside.
As written in Ask the Scientists in 2017, “Healthy doses of nature will help prepare your body fight. Here’s how it works. A study published in 2010 evaluated the effect of forest bathing on immune function. For a group of Japanese adults, a three-day trip to the forest increased the number of white blood cells in their blood. These levels of white blood cells stayed elevated for more than 30 days after their adventure in the woods. White blood cells are crucial to your immune system. They help your body battle germs by recognizing pathogens and harmful intruders with the help of antibodies.” I’m fortunate as I have not been sick at all during this pandemic. Most likely because my circle is small, namely my boyfriend Roy and my dog Baci. I shop and go through drive-thrus but my exposure is pretty low. Perhaps all those walks through nature are helping boost my immune system as well.
Calm the Mind
As I get into my workday, I try and set getting a walk in as a priority. I’ll start looking at my schedule and think, where can I get a walk in and do I have enough time to take a walk on a local greenway. As written in Ask the Scientists, “Spending time outside improves mood and reduces feelings of anxiety. We can focus better in nature, and our improved concentration can help us address feelings of stress and anxiety. Self-esteem can also receive a boost after time spent wandering outdoors. Peace and mental clarity are a big reason why being outside is important. Find it by adding time in nature to your mental healthcare regimen.” After spending 30 minutes outside, I am able to refocus on work and I am more content. It also sets up boundaries to my day so I’m not riding an endless wave of Zoom meetings. I punctuate my day will doses of getting outside.
Short Term Memory
As espoused in Ask the Scientists, “Nature could be the answer to remembering names, not forgetting your keys, and taking better notes in class. There is growing evidence that both short-term and working memory can be improved by time spent outside. At the University of Michigan, a simple experiment backed this theory. Two groups of students were given a memory test and then assigned to take a walk through a garden or down a city street. After their walks, the participants performed the memory test again. Those who walked through the garden improved their scores by 20 percent. No consistent improvement was observed in the participants who walked in the city.” This may be why I prefer the walk in the forest rather than the neighborhood. I can’t tell you if I’ve noticed a better short-term memory but I definitely feel more refreshed and creative after taking a walk in the woods.
I’ve really tried to make it a priority to get outside. I started it to close my stress cycle. It’s also drawing a clear line between Zoom meetings; a boundary of sorts. Now I’m focusing on taking the extra ten minutes to get out into nature. I almost always take my dog, Baci, as well. I’m getting the triple benefit of spending time with my dog, getting movement in to my life and getting outside. Give it a try and see what you think. Get outside.