- Health and wellness
Why working outdoors boosts productivity
Psychotherapist and author of Grounded: How connection with nature can improve our mental and physical wellbeing, Dr Ruth Allen explains why working in the great outdoors is better for your mental and physical health and, as a result, is good for business
In my work as a psychotherapist and organisational trainer specialising in outdoor practice, I help individuals and groups understand the power of nature connectedness for their health and wellbeing. I also help them make different choices about their everyday lives that can increase their capacity and leave them better resourced to thrive. Remote working has been a huge success in recent times, but it has also blurred the boundaries between office and home. Theoretically, it’s great for work-life balance, but we might still need some help keeping our minds and bodies healthy in the process.
Building a new, resourcing relationship with nature is something that can extend to all aspects of our lives, including work. After all, this is where we spend so much of our time – psychologically, if not physically. If you want to live a healthier, more balanced life whilst enjoying the great outdoors there has never been a better time to forge new habits and consider some of the following changes in your work life.
Take a green view
A vast amount of evidence has proved the calming and restorative benefits of a green view. In hospital settings, a vista of trees has been shown to be as effective as medication when it comes to pain relief, and there is no doubt that in our working lives a window overlooking greenery, a big picture of our favourite place on the wall, watching a video of nature for ten minutes, or preferably taking in a lovely view on foot outside, are all highly effective stress relievers in our increasingly busy lives. I call these ‘tiny green breaks’.
Whether you take your work outside or take ‘movement snacks’ outside between blocks of work, getting your body moving is essential for overall health. Walking is the simplest activity for most of us, and an immediate tonic to hours spent seated at the desk. As the adage goes, the next posture is the best posture. Fifteen minutes a day away from your desk would be a start towards a healthier lifestyle and is a chance to connect with nature and feel the mood benefits of observing wildlife. Walking has been shown to break ruminating habits and its rhythm proved to stimulate both sides of the brain in healthy ways.
Changing your environment is good for creativity
Getting up and taking your laptop outside, or completing a call while walking, is a valuable way of changing things up. Sitting in the same indoor environment can send our grey matter into stasis and make us adopt habitual ways of thinking, but shifting our environment has been proved to support creative solution-making. Time spent outside boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and promotes feelings of calm through the activation of the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system. If you get stuck on a problem, take it outside and see what happens.
Have the big conversations side by side, on the move
There is no rule that says all meetings must be around a table or in a Zoom room. Instead, why not take the big conversations outside? Walking together creates mutuality and reduces hierarchical thinking. It can helpfully dissolve power differences and defensiveness, making tricky conversations easier, but it can also spark creative group innovations when everyone is encouraged to leave the room behind. It’s also massively beneficial to overall health. Being outdoors promotes the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphins, and the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin, and reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as the prevalence of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
Restore your attention
Working outside or taking extended breaks outside gives you a different type of environment for your mind and body to operate in. Surrounded by the ambient sounds and colours of nature and looking up every now and then to take a ‘soft gaze’ at your surroundings is a great way of giving your brain relief from the super-saturated world of computers, documents and web browsing. Modern life, and endless scrolling and task completing, makes us hyper switched on and distractable. Going outside restores our brain to better, slower functioning where deeper work becomes possible again.
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