Many studies are contributing to what we know regarding the effects of the outdoors. It’s an evolution in terms of therapeutic techniques, a counterbalance for mental health complaints, and a firm aid for general wellbeing. The results are heavily weighted towards positive factors, but how are we determining what is positive? Here at BDO, we like to evidence our thinking. We will continue to tell you to join us, and we also share with you why.
The research is vast, and these short articles could not hope to give an all-inclusive scope of the research available, but references are included for further reading.
The art of restoration – Black Dog’s sniffing out the research!
Evidence is mounting that the benefits of the outdoors contribute to overall better mental health and wellbeing. Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety (Beyer et. al. 2004). Attention restoration by minimising artificial stimulus (Kaplan and Kaplan 1989), and of course we have the Darwinian argument of evolution and being connected to our roots.
A range of factors are reported in connection with the positivity of exploring the outdoors; a sense of vastness, connection to nature and psychological healing (McQuillan, 2019). This month we are looking at restoration – using the outdoors to relieve ourselves of life’s over-stimulation and what better time to focus on restoration than now. Let’s breathe, reboot and take in that fresh air… ahhhhhh… 😊
What many of us would once consider “normal life”, is bustling with stimulation. To me now, that feels a long time ago! Our successful economy ensures our comfort of living in a safe environment and the current most important part of our normal life is our key workers – thank you from all of us at Black Dog Outdoors.
Although it’s possible we may be facing an economic downturn, in our economic cyclitic existence, we will be part of a successful economy again. With the ever-repeating ups and downs, how do we maintain our own mindful balance? Being part of a booming economy does have its own price. The mind is being forced to use vast amounts of energy to draw attention to manmade stimulation. Advertisements – buy now, you need this, spend, spend, spend! Noise – beep beep! Honk honk!! Kaplan terms this over-stimulation as “hard fascination” which in turn causes cognitive fatigue in relation to our ability to retain attention, affecting performance. The flip side of the coin is termed “soft fascination” which Kaplan describes as accruing feelings of pleasure in an environment which automatically attracts our attention and does not cost energy with which to engage, hence less energy output and more pleasure.
Let’s take a minute to imagine a stack of coins. Think of each coin as a unit of energy, we each have a finite amount and we choose to spend them in a variety of ways. Now let us consider two different days out; one in an urban setting and one in a green park and let’s consider that we have 10 energy coins to spend. I recount my own feelings when thinking of these two settings and invite you to consider how your feelings may affect you. I also like to think of Feng Shui I-Ching coins as a great representation of energy. For those not familiar, I-Ching coins, according to Chinese philosophy, express the energy of the trinity of heaven, earth and of luck, so why not our spirits too?
So, back to our day out. I step off the train, put my ticket through the exit stall and look around. I feel excitement upon arrival. Lights flashing all around, but excitement turns to anxiety as I try to get my bearings considering how to get to my destination (I’ve never used an urban setting to aimlessly bimble, I’m usually there with an end intention). I walk to the centre of the station and notice billboards flash all around. Various enticing “look at me’s!” consisting of “half price doberry-whatsits!” and “you’re barely scraping by without one of these whoosits!!”. By this point I have spent at least 3 coins; finding my ticket and praying profusely that it works, ignoring billboards to concentrate on where I’m going (or perhaps considering buying myself a dooberry-whatsit), and trying to work out what I need to do to get to my destination.
“The cost of materialism”
Now the green park. I walk in and notice trees swaying in the wind. Lots of colours, particularly in spring and autumn. I can hear the chirp of birds and I begin to wander around. I’m feeling peaceful and mindful that I have time to explore and breathe it in. There’s nothing I need to be doing or thinking about right now. I’m not sure where I’m going yet but I’m enjoying the steps I’m taking to get there. 5 minutes into the park I may have spent one coin assessing my route but at the same time I have already soaked up many pleasures, restoring my cognitive function. Perhaps I had a stressful journey on the way to both locations. My ticket may not have worked in the entry stall, and the drive to the park may have given me anxiety but one of these scenarios is paying back the coins I have already spent.
**Note units of energy are based on single adults only. Those with children may need to account for a much more considerable spend!
These are hard times and many of us are clawing at the walls to get out (I’m a trekker… I like my space and I hear your pain brothers and sisters, I got you!) During these times, adventures in the outdoors are not so freely available but in this already mentioned cyclitic existence, they will be again. Until then, what are we doing to look after ourselves and restore? Professionals recommend that 30 minutes spent outside is enough to sustain improved mental health by exercising outdoors and therefore releasing the positive mood elevating endorphins and lowering cortisol which the body releases in times of stress. Exposure to natural light for 30 minutes a day or more, particularly when experienced in green space, increases vitamin D stores and in turn reducing the effects of many health factors including depression, fatigue and an improved quality of sleep (Davis, 2014). These are all restorative effects, think how many coins can be collected in just 30 minutes!
With no disregard to the sadness of Covid-19, or the grief which come from being separated from our loved ones, there could be a silver-lined opportunity to recalibrate and reflect on our own needs and values. The space to rest, to be creative, to meditate, to read, to learn something new, to exercise and to heal and restore. Not all of us can easily get into green space when such strict laws are in place but Korpela et al. (2001), have argued that restoration is not strictly confined to vast, natural settings, but can be experienced by rivers, cottages covered in flowers, or even cemeteries – nothing like a contemplative walk around those loved and lost to breathe a fresh energy into life.
The studies I have mentioned are measured by association with varied environments. It’s not realistic at this time to separate the natural from the urban so distinctly, we may need to look for the natural a little more mindfully. There is still much debate among psychologists trying to identify specific elements of the outdoors which enhance restoration. We excitedly wait for developments in this area so we can inject them straight into our walks with you. Until then, perhaps take some time to consider where your association with outdoors restoration lies, and at what points your piggy bank begins to fill.
“And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”
Buddhists cyclitic existence as seen in Tengboche’s Gompa, Himayalas
(A sneak preview of things to come for those joining us on our Everest Base Camp trek 2021!)
For those who are struggling during this time, please seek support. Various methods are available to help counterbalance the anxiety of Covid-19. Please refer to our mental health page for support networks.
Beyer, K. M. M., Kaltenbach, A., Szabo, A., Bogar, S., Nieto, F. J., and Malecki, K. M. (2014). Exposure to neighbourhood green space and mental health: Evidence from the survey of the health of Wisconsin. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 11, 3453–3472. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110303453
Davis, C. (2008) Shining light on what light does for the body. https://sustainability.ncsu.edu/blog/changeyourstate/benefits-of-natural-light/. NC State University
Kaplan, R., and Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature – toward an integrative framework. J. Environ. Psychol. 15, 169–182. doi: 10.1016/0272-4944(95)90001-2
Korpela, K. M., Hartig, T., Kaiser, F. G., and Fuhrer, U. (2001). Restorative experience and self-regulation in favorite places. Environ. Behav. 33, 572–589. doi: 10.1177/00139160121973133