From Square Eyes to Blue Skies

Whether you are on the last lap of Mario Kart or the last 20min of a movie, everyone is familiar with the horrifying sound of their parent approaching, bellowing the day-ruining words, “It’s time you went outside. You’ll get square eyes.” Before we know it, they’ve pulled the plug and our view disappears into a white spec in the middle of the screen. Gone.

The peak of childhood distress. Sourced from Pexels (tookapic)

 

As soul crushing as this was as a child, research backs them up! No, your eyes won’t change shape, but being outdoors in a natural space does have huge benefits to our well-being.

Firstly, there is the physical side of things. Trees and plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, providing humans and animals with fresh, breathable air. This is a huge deal! Research has shown that dirty, polluted air contributes to a huge range of ailments such as a bad cough, asthma, and emphysema.

If going outside to gulp up fresh air still isn’t appealing, perhaps this will give you a gentle nudge out the door: people who spend majority of their time indoors have a higher rate of headaches, eczema and allergies.


Broadening the literal and figurative horizons. Sourced from Flickr.

 

Not only is being outside good for us physically, it’s also our brain’s best friend (right after food and afternoon naps).

Those who engage with nature in their free time whether it is gardening, hikes, strolls through the park, or lounging back and enjoying the view, show much lower levels of anxiety, depression, and irritability than those who don’t.

On the other hand, after spending time outside, people have shown to be calmer, happier, have better concentration and be better at problem solving than those who opt to stay indoors.

Psychology researchers explain these benefits using the Attention Restoration Theory. The theory says we have two kinds of attention. The first is directed or voluntary attention. This is used when we try hard to focus on difficult things and ignore more interesting distractions (Facebook, Netflix, or the gossip of the people next to us). The second type is involuntary attention, the things that effortlessly grab our attention.

Study, work, Mario Kart and problem solving are examples of things that use up our voluntary attention. Watching a kangaroo bound along a paddock, seeing trees sway in the breeze, and gazing at a flowing waterfall use involuntary attention.  

The theory goes, using our unforced involuntary attention by looking at natural landscapes, gives our voluntary attention time to refill which relaxes and recharges us. This leaves us feeling calm, happy and focused.

Finally, research has shown that looking at a video of nature for as little as forty seconds can improve concentration and productivity at work.

Ah-ha! A loophole emerges.

If pictures and videos of nature have also shown to increase concentration and mood, do we need the real thing? Before we start plastering our walls with posters of trees to avoid the outdoors, I should tell you this. Pictures don’t make us nearly as relaxed and focused as the actual outdoors do, nor do they produce oxygen.

After all this, the next episode of Game of Thrones can wait.

Don’t worry mum, I’ll unplug it myself!


2 Responses to “From Square Eyes to Blue Skies”

  1. mdorman says:

    Thanks Melissa! Yeah it’s a topic that feels very intuitive which made it cool to explore the research and see some data that supports it!

  2. Melissa Yoon says:

    Cool article. I think the idea that nature is good for your wellbeing is something I’ve known intuitively but it’s also great when you can back it up with science.