Stressed Out? Take a Hike!
How to take advantage of nature’s instant power to rejuvenate and refresh
Posted November 18, 2016
The Ballena Coast is the setting of our true story, Radical Sabbatical. Nature drips from the trees. The only sounds are those of wildlife. The ocean is pristine and almost devoid of boating activity. It is pure, unadulterated nature.
People wonder what made us jettison corporate America to a primitive jungle village. As you’ll see in a moment, a ‘round-the-clock worker like Glen was putty in the hands of these surroundings—much like an alcoholic wandering into a bar, but in a good way.
For certain, it would behoove all of us to take heed of recent research that explains the therapeutic draw of nature and its healing effects on the body and mind:
- A 2009 Boston Globe article cites studies showing hospital patients who had a view of trees outside their windows healed faster than those who did not.
- Dr. Daphne Miller of the University of California has a hefty list of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, vitamin D deficiency, osteoporosis, stress, depression, attention deficit disorder and myopia comprising “the diseases of indoor living.”
- Environmental psychologists Nancy E. Wells and Gary W. Evans found in a study of 337 households that children in rural areas were significantly buffered from the long-term effects of early life stresses like bullying versus counterparts growing up in man-made environments.
- David Strayer of the University of Utah has proven that Outward Bound participants perform 50 percent better in creative problem solving after three days of wilderness backpacking.
- In Japan where nature therapy is a long-standing discipline called shinrin-yoku, researchers at Chiba University found that subjects who walked in a forest experienced a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and 4 percent decrease in pulse.
The evidence of the mental and physiological benefits of being out in nature go on and on, and in fairness, aside from the compelling evidence above, we do hope that you consider these findings a no-brainer—less work for us to convince you. At the same time, why has the Harvard School of Public health found that American adults spend less than 5 percent of their day outside? Yes, this includes you.
Of course, these findings point to one obvious paradigm. That is, instead of going on vacation in a cement jungle like Las Vegas, find a place like the Ballena Coast, and make it your destination. But with the average American worker having 2.5 weeks of vacation, the long-term effects of such a strategy are limited.
How, then, can we get out into nature at least once per day? The truth is with children running from one side of the house to another and gapless calendars at work, it is understandable that so many take so little advantage of nature, our most plentiful rejuvenating resource. But never fear. We can talk you through a strategy.
- Block it on your calendar – As with all positive habits, routine is vital. Show a time as unavailable on your work calendar every day, and try not to worry about the potential resulting stigma. Many of today’s calendaring systems don’t allow others to see how you are spending your time. Even if they did, more and more modern working cultures are promoting mindfulness and stress reduction techniques. And make the time somewhere between 10 and 11 AM, since studies show the most rejuvenating breaks are taken well before the point where the brain reaches exhaustion.
- Get a buddy – All positive habits can also benefit from the involvement of a buddy or maybe a group that either engages in it daily or takes turns participating with you. This will create a sense of friendly accountability. What’s more, such a strategy complements the finding that building social ties in the workplace increases engagement and professional longevity.
- Do something you enjoy while in nature – We want to make your brain automatically gravitate toward the activity which you are making routine as much as possible. This will happen if your subconscious mind knows that something pleasurable happens during your break. Have a coffee while you’re walking or your yummiest treat of the day. And while it is certainly desirable to hear nature while in it, if listening to music, books, or information on your phone is really your thing—and you’re not walking with a buddy, do it—anything to just get you out there!
- Put electronics away – Listening to your phone is permissible. Looking at it is not. After all, we are trying to cure the fatigue created by work, and looking at a screen when you should be rejuvenating will have the exact opposite effect.
- Take different routes – Don’t let this get boring. Try to take a different route every day.
Now there is one thing we have not yet addressed. A good proportion of today’s offices are in cities. Well, technology to the rescue! Research shows that looking at images and sounds of nature has surprising rejuvenating effects on the brain. And luckily, the day when you stop seeming like you are in an eye exam when wearing virtual reality goggles will be here before you know it. Simple therapy is just a few clicks away! Or you could take some vacation time on the Ballena Coast. Say hi to the monkeys for us!
Laura Berger, PCC and Glen Tibaldeo, PMP, CPA are authors and popular speakers at national conferences and for Fortune companies. Glen is a Project Strategist / Change Management Consultant and screenwriter for Radical Sabbatical, and Laura is an Executive Coach, both for the Berdeo Group LLC. Their Bestseller Radical Sabbatical is described by Dave Barry as "the funniest book I have ever held in my hands" and is available on Amazon, kobo, Barnes and Noble, and at other major bookstores.