Was it just me or did your mother often bark “get outside in the fresh air!” Or “go and play outside!” To be honest, I think much of it came from my mother’s desire for us to get out from under her feet while she prepared meals for the family or did the ironing or some other super-mum activity (I still don’t know how she did it all!). But I think she might have been on to something. As kids we spent as much time as physically possible outside playing in the street or local parks, most likely bugging the ducks in the local pond. Every minute inside (unless we were ‘helping’ Mum in the kitchen of course) really was a minute wasted. We loved it. Rain, hail or shine. As adults we spend less time playing outside, and more time indoors. And it’s making us unhappy.
The Brain Science of being outside
When we are outside, we are most likely looking up. After all, there is so much to see – trees, birds, clouds, the swing set in the park. Most of the activity is above eye level. Especially when you are small. When we look up, our brain accesses our visual memories and visually creates new things for us. It’s a lovely creative space. It is impossible to feel down when we are looking up. When we are inside, we are most likely looking down. Down at a laptop or iPad or TV or book etc. There’s not much to look at if you look up in a regular home. So we don’t. When we look down, our brain accesses our kinaesthetic or feeling zone. It is also the place we look at for facts, data and logic. This can be helpful, but too much exposure to looking down can cause us to dwell on negative feelings and magnify what would otherwise be a fleeting bad thought. Term ‘feeling down’ is more appropriate than you think.
Take Action – Get Outside
There have been a number of studies that prove that time outside relieves the symptoms of depression and anxiety (beyondblue.org.au). Even without these studies, we know that if we just take a few deep breaths and walk around the block our problems get into perspective. Recently, a colleague and I walked around the block four times. By the end of our walk we had solved all the problems in the world! Well, not quite, but we definitely felt better. Fresh air is natural medicine and completely free – although you might want to avoid the smokers’ corner as you escape your building. There might not be time to go to a park or to the river, but there’s always time to step outside, breathe in some air and look up. Look up at the sky, the clouds, the sun, the tops of buildings, the architecture you never noticed before etc.
We spend a lot of our time ‘switching off’ from the world around us with headphones in, buried in our Smart phones. Switch ‘on’ by taking in everything around you by looking up and about. It only takes a few minutes but can turn your day around.
How did you go? Did you love the feeling of being outside? Did you notice something new? Feel free to share in the comments or via your favourite social media button!