Being a student can be stressful. Looming deadlines, final exams, and packed schedules can make it difficult to focus, and we might begin to feel disconnected from ourselves and the world around us. A lack of sleep, exercise, or a nutritious diet can take us out of balance, too. Managing a busy life is a little bit like building a house of cards. If anything upsets the balance, everything takes a tumble, which can cause feelings of overwhelm and even isolation. Afterwards, when we get through the stressful event, we might say to ourselves, “Never again!” But then the next thing we know, the work is stacking up again and we’re pulling all-nighters and surviving on coffee.
It needn’t be this way. With one simple change in our day, we can be better prepared to handle challenges and keep our connection with our world, and in the end, be far more successful with our studies and better at managing stress.
What does getting outside have to do with keeping our balance and surviving stress? A lot. Spending time in nature, and accepting that we are nature (not separate from it) has benefits to our overall well-being. In Florence Williams’ book, The Nature Fix (2017) she explains how the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, is considered preventative medicine to a stressful lifestyle. She cites the work of Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a physical anthropologist who studies forest therapy and notes his belief, “that because humans evolved in nature, it's where we feel most comfortable, even if we don’t always know it.” Since 2004, Miyazaki has been studying how forest bathing has beneficial effects to our physiology and concluded in a 2011 paper that, “stressful states can be relieved by shinrin therapy.”
More and more science is pointing to how spending time in the natural world can increase our well being. Not every campus is home to a forest, but every campus has greenery in some form. Getting outside to appreciate and get to know our surroundings, especially as our stress levels start to climb, is going to make a difference.
If you're a college student, it's likely your campus is breathtaking and steeped in history. And if you're still in high school, college tours can be an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. When on a college campus, look beyond the statues and buildings that stand in homage to past alumni, and the state-of-the-art research labs and technology centers. These are important, but they aren’t the whole story.
The land herself is a key part of the campus and surrounding neighborhoods, and shouldn’t be overlooked. There is a history to the land that dates back before its modern borders. And there are the flora, fauna, and fungi who call this place home and who are as much a part of the story as the towering structures and student body. The place is literally rooted and welcoming us to be part of it too!
The campus might have legendary trees that shade expansive greens or ancient streams that carve through the grounds, criss-crossed by bridges before it empties into a river, lake, or ocean. Many schools have botanic, native, or test gardens, and some even have farm collectives where students can learn about growing food or tending to livestock. Everywhere we look, there is life!
It’s unbelievably simple and can be worked into any day, no matter the schedule. Spend 5-minutes in nature, everyday, even during crunch time, and begin to feel a marked difference in how we handle a busy life. In The Nature Fix, Williams also points out that time in nature boosts productivity and creativity.
In 2005, Last Child in the Woods author Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” to help describe the human costs of alienation from nature that seemed fueled by our devotion to personal electronics and indoor activities. Since then, there’s been research that “proves a link between time spent in nature and improvements in areas such as motivation, problem-solving and self-esteem.
Time in nature also restores a feeling of connectedness. Know your neighbors! It won’t take long before we start to recognize certain animals, birds, and trees and they start to recognize us. There is a familiarity that occurs and with it a sense of belonging. As Richard Louv says in Our Wild Calling, "Our relationships with other-than-human beings can have a profoundly positive impact on our health, our spirit, and our sense of inclusiveness in the world.”
So if you're committed to feeling less stressed out in the coming year, the next time you find yourself bent over your keyboard, sleepless, exhausted, and stressed, step outside for five minutes and take it all in. Take in some deep breaths. Observe. And allow your body and mind to recalibrate to the natural rhythms of nature.
Then make it a habit. Five minutes a day in nature can help relieve stress and increase productivity, creativity, motivation, problem-solving, self-esteem, and belonging.
Read Christina M. Burress's article on Getting More Our of Your Campus Tours or start a thread on the topic in the CC Community.
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