Think Tank: Going Outside

Backyard photo shenanigans.
Backyard photo shenanigans.

The quarter has winded down, which means that I have a break from The Poly Post staff meetings for a few weeks. I came home from school early, had lunch in my own kitchen (which never happens anymore), brought my laptop in from my room and opened my in-progress ENG 466 portfolio Word document to work on it some more (more on this next week).

This started out as a pleasant experience. The back door was open, letting a cool breeze and the songs of chirping birds filter through the house. I was listening to some great music. But I spent about three hours glued to a seat at my kitchen table. I had to write a cover letter, work on intro blurbs for each section and fix a bunch of formatting issues. To top it off, it’s a 65-page document that seems to scroll on forever and ever and ever.

Somewhere between fixing a really annoying header problem and starting in on my linguistics assignment blurb, I felt really frustrated and depleted. In the last year, I have really come to hate staring at a computer screen. I can barely tolerate the one I’m looking at right now.

I suddenly couldn’t remember the last time I had been outside. And I don’t mean walking from my car to class to work and back, or the short distance from the parking lot of my neighborhood Starbucks to the store entrance. I mean being out in nature and appreciating it. I spend most of my time in a windowless office, and the windows in the classrooms and the newsroom never stay open for long before someone else shuts it.

So I got up from the kitchen table and went out the back door.

As soon as I stepped out into my backyard, I felt a weight disappear from my shoulders, and my headspace instantly felt clearer. With my dog undertow I spent 15 minutes walking around on the grass, looking at how much bigger the succulents in the bathtub have grown and gazing at the foothills, which are finally starting to grow back in. I felt the breeze on my face. I felt the grass creep up around my sandals. And I felt the earth pushing back up on me (A yoga thing, don’t worry about it.) It was the most sensory experience I had in a long time, and I couldn’t have felt more relaxed.

I’ve been learning a lot about coping and relaxation techniques in my stress management class, and I was curious about the connection between nature and stress management. A quick Google search later, I landed on a American Society of Landscape Architects blog. The blog extrapolated on a Wall Street Journal article that claimed that strolling through a park or an arboretum significantly affects your mood and gives you a cognitive boost. It makes sense though that this is an issue that landscape architects have to work with. You’d probably need that to factor into the design of your outdoor space, and providing the best experience possible would benefit everyone.

I also found an abstract for a really rad study that claimed that interacting with nature was the most important coping strategy for cancer patients. That makes so much sense too. If you’re in chemotherapy all day, which probably entails being stuck in hospital room surrounded by sterility, the sounds of rustling trees and getting visual stimulation from looking at pretty flowers or clouds in the sky are probably pretty damn therapeutic.

I find it fascinating though that a brief interaction with real nature — looking at a photo of a forest or a beach doesn’t count — has the power to significantly alter our emotional and physiologically well-being. We all spend way too much time inside, glued to computer screens that are screwing up our vision and giving us extreme cases of FOMO. And we also try to make quick fixes that end up making things worse, like mid-afternoon coffee breaks or retail therapy. Based on my experience today, what we really should be doing is making time in our day to experience the outdoors.

Tl;dr Go outside.

Wanna chat about going outside? Let’s talk in the comments.

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