Okay, so you’ve finally decided to carve out the time in your busy schedule to commune with nature because you’ve heard and read that spending time outside has a wide range of benefits from physical health to mental wellbeing. However, you only have access to a city park, your backyard, or even just a patch of grass near the parking lot outside your office.
Well, you can still ensure that you connect with whatever green space you have access to and make the most of the time you have with nature with these three science-backed tips.
Take a tech-free microbreak
When the time comes to de-stress and relax in the great outdoors, it’s worth reminding yourself that scrolling through social media or even reading something online won’t put you at ease.
“People use those [technological] activities as a break—as a way to relax or de-stress. And what’s actually happening is that those actives are putting them at an even greater attentional deficit,” explains Jason Duvall, Ph.D. “If you have people take cognitive functioning tests before and after those activities, it’s very likely they would perform worse afterward.”
In contrast, a study from a university in Australia showed that just gazing at greenery for as little as 40 seconds at a time appears to boost mental capacity. So, the next time you head outside for a nature break, leave your phone behind and focus on taking in the greenery around you—it’s the most productive thing you can do!
Get your head in the clouds
Though overcast days can be less enticing, cloud enthusiast and founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society Gavin Pretor-Pinney insists that cloud spotting is a (completely free and mostly accessible) restorative practice.
“To be a cloud spotter is to be open to what’s happening in the sky,” he says. “It’s more about shifting a perspective and seeing what’s beautiful and exotic in the mundane, the everyday that’s around you.”
Instead of canceling your nature time because of the lack of sun, slow down enough to watch the sky scene unfold above you.
Engage with your walks in new ways
While simply being outside is a great first step, you can enhance your nature experience by being intentional and curious about the whole escapade. According to a study led by Duvall at the University of Michigan, people who followed “awareness plans” while outdoors usually perceived their environment more positively than those who walked without awareness plans.
An awareness plan encourages walkers to take on new personas while outside, such as an artist seeking the beauty in ordinary things, or a botanist hunting for new and unique plant species. Intentionally and mindfully adopting a fresh perspective will help you appreciate scenes you’ve walked by again and again, or discover new details in a familiar place, making the entire experience even more satisfying.